Tag Archives: Environment Canada

Updates on a Canadian election science debate and the 2015 Canadian Science Policy Conference (blog session) plus a protest song

I have some good news on a couple of fronts. First, it seems increasingly likely that we will see a 2015 election science debate.

Canadian election 2015 science debate

The debate will be, according to Jim Handman, senior producer, held in early October 2015 on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio’s Quirks and Quarks program. Here’s what Mr. Handman had to say after I tweeted and contacted them about holding an election science debate,

… Quirks has approached all the parties at the national
level to provide candidates for a radio panel on science to be
broadcast in early October. They have all expressed interest and we are waiting to hear about specific candidates. It is up to the parties to choose the participants.

Not realizing something was in the works at Quirks and Quarks and following on a suggestion from David Bruggeman at Pasco Phronesis (noted in my Aug. 17, 2015 posting), I contacted Lynne Quarmby (Green shadow science minister), Ted Hsu (Liberal shadow science minister), Kennedy Stewart (NDP [New Democratic Party] shadow science minister), and Ed Holder (Conservative science minister) about their willingness to participate in a debate. As of this writing, both Lynne Quarmby and Ted Hsu have shown interest.

While I was busy tweeting, this was brought to my attention,


You can see, if you look carefully at the bottom of the poster, the Evidence for Democracy logo. Those folks kicked off a proposal for science debate for this election in an Aug. 12, 2015 opinion piece for the Toronto Star.

Plus, CBC is reporting a new call for a science debate in a Sept. 3, 2015 news item by Julie Ireton,

Members of Canada’s long-silent scientific research community are increasingly speaking out during this year’s federal campaign as they desperately try to make science an election issue.

Jules  Blais, a biology professor at the University of Ottawa, calls cuts to science-related jobs “targeted strikes.”

Like many Canadian scientists, Blais considers himself non-partisan and said he’s not campaigning for any particular party, but that he and others are speaking out for the need to protect independent scientific research.

“Science has always been apolitical by its nature, but in recent years because of the dramatic changes that we’re seeing in the way science is being done, and science is being conducted, it’s increasingly a political issue,” said Blais.

To sum it up, it all looks quite promising for 2015 although I hope any national debate will be more broad-ranging and nuanced than a simple Conservative science policy bashing.

For anyone interested in ancient history, there’s my Aug. 17, 2015 posting which provides a view of previous efforts to get a science debate during an election in English-speaking Canada and notes like efforts have taken place in French-speaking Canada. Happily for anyone wanting a more complete history, Pascal Lapointe and Josh Silberg have written an Aug. 31, 2015 posting on Science Borealis detailing efforts in Québec.

Canadian Science Policy Conference blogging session

In an Aug. 18, 2015 posting, I highlighted and critiqued the blogging session offered at the upcoming 2015 Canadian Science Policy Conference. One of the blog panel members, Chris Buddle kindly contacted me via Twitter to answer a few of the questions I’d posed and to tell me that he’d contacted the organizers and suggested some changes be made to the descriptions based on my comments. You can find the changed descriptions here.

They’ve added one person to the panel, Lisa Willemse, who’s billed as Senior Communications Advisor, Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

One final comment about the science blogging panel descriptions, I wish they’d added links to the blogs. Perhaps that wasn’t technical feasible?

Protest song

Part of what has mobilized scientists and a discussion of science in Canada has been the Conservative government’s policy of ‘muzzling scientists’. Glyn Moody in a Sept. 1, 2015 posting on Techdirt profiles an incident where Environment Canada scientist, Tony Turner, has been put on leave while charges that he violated conflict-of-interest rules are being investigated. His sin: he wrote a protest song, got a group of friends and supporters to sing it with him, and then posted it to Youtube. From Moody’s posting (Note: A link has been removed),

Turner’s song, with its opening lines “Who controls our parliament? Harperman, Harperman. Who squashes all dissent? Harperman, Harperman,” and a refrain of “It’s time for you to go,” is pretty mild stuff. …

Of course, the great thing about the Canadian government’s absurd overreaction to this gentlest of private protests is that many more people will now learn that Turner is an environmental scientist who is being muzzled by a bunch of desperate control freaks who are frightened that the Canadian people might be told the truth about important scientific issues. Thank goodness for the Streisand Effect…. [As I understand it, Barbra Streisand once responded to criticism or commentary about herself that she found offensive. Her response, given her star power, drew a great of attention to the commentary. Techdirt folks have dubbed this the ‘Streisand’ effect, i.e. drawing attention to something no one would have noticed otherwise.]

An Aug. 28, 2015 article by Madeline Smith for the Globe and Mail provides details about the protest song and government response,

An Environment Canada scientist is under investigation for allegedly breaching the public service code of ethics by writing and performing a political song that criticizes the Harper government.

Andrew Hall, who filmed the Harperman video – a singalong with a backup choir that had almost 60,000 views as of Friday [Aug. 28, 2015] evening – said the song is a “joyful” expression of protest. [emphasis mine] He said Mr. Turner wasn’t acting as a public servant, so there should be a reasonable expectation “to be able to engage in democracy.”

As of Thurs., Sept. 3, 2015 at 10 am PDT the number of views is 525,823. So, from June 2015 when it was first posted to Aug. 28, 2015, there were almost 60,000 views. The Streisand effect in operation!

According to Smith’s article, Turner, after working for the government for 20 years, is months from retirement.

Finally, the song,

Rousing, isn’t it? That said, there is a fine line to be tread here. Civil servants are required to be neutral and, assuming you’re not dealing with noxious forces, you need to be respectful of the agreements you’ve made. As a civil servant for a number of years, that freedom of speech vs. neutrality ethics divide always bothered me. I believe that people are entitled to speak their opinions in private but I do see the point of insisting on neutrality professionally and privately. Most times, neutrality is the way to go for civil servants. However, there are times when one must speak out. The question is: what is the tipping point?

ETA Sept. 4, 2015: In the US they’re having their own civil servant neutrality issues. As evidenced by this story of the Kentucky clerk who refuses to issue marriage licences to same sex couples, civil service neutrality is not an open and shut discussion. Note: Slate has adopted a policy of urging readers to subscribe with popup ads.

Frogs: monitoring them, finding new species, and research about the golden ones in Panama

I have three frog-oriented items and while they’re not strictly speaking in my usual range of topics, given this blog’s name and the fact I haven’t posted a frog piece in quite a while, it seems this is a good moment to address that lack.

Monitoring frogs and amphibians at Trent University (Ontario, Canada)

From a March 23, 2015 Trent University news release,

With the decline of amphibian populations around the world, a team of researchers led by Trent University’s Dr. Dennis Murray will seek to establish environmental DNA (eDNA) monitoring of amphibian occupancy and aquatic ecosystem risk assessment with the help of a significant grant of over $596,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Awarded to Professor Murray, a Canada research chair in integrative wildlife conservation, bioinformatics, and ecological modelling and professor at Trent University along with colleagues Dr. Craig Brunetti of the Biology department, and Dr. Chris Kyle of the Forensic Science program, and partners at Laurentian University, University of Toronto, McGill University, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and Environment Canada, the grant will support the development of tools that will promote a cleaner aquatic environment.

The project will use amphibian DNA found in natural breeding habitats to determine the presence and abundance of amphibians as well as their pathogens. This new technology capitalizes on Trent University’s expertise and infrastructure in the areas of wildlife DNA and water quality.

“We’re honoured to have received the grant to help us drive the project forward,” said Prof. Murray. “Our plan is to place Canada, and Trent, in a leadership position with respect to aquatic wildlife monitoring and amphibian conservation.”

Amphibian populations are declining worldwide, yet in Canada, amphibian numbers are not monitored closely, meaning changes in their distribution or abundance may be unnoticeable. Amphibian monitoring in Canada is conducted by citizen scientists who record frog breeding calls when visiting bodies of water during the spring. However, the lack of formalized amphibian surveys leaves Canada in a vulnerable position regarding the status of its diverse amphibian community.

Prof. Murray believes that the protocols developed from this project could revolutionize how amphibian populations are monitored in Canada and in turn lead to new insights regarding the population trends for several amphibian species across the country.

Here’s more about NSERC and Trent University from the news release,


NSERC is a federal agency that helps make Canada a country of discoverers and innovators. The agency supports almost 30,000 post-secondary students and postdoctoral fellows in their advanced studies. NSERC promotes discovery by funding approximately 12,000 professors every year and fosters innovation by encouraging over 2,400 Canadian companies to participate and invest in post-secondary research projects.

The NSERC Strategic Project Grants aim to increase research and training in areas that could strongly influence Canada’s economy, society or environment in the next 10 years in four target areas: environmental science and technologies; information and communications technologies; manufacturing; and natural resources and energy.

About Trent University

One of Canada’s top universities, Trent University was founded on the ideal of interactive learning that’s personal, purposeful and transformative. Consistently recognized nationally for leadership in teaching, research and student satisfaction, Trent attracts excellent students from across the country and around the world. Here, undergraduate and graduate students connect and collaborate with faculty, staff and their peers through diverse communities that span residential colleges, classrooms, disciplines, hands-on research, co-curricular and community-based activities. Across all disciplines, Trent brings critical, integrative thinking to life every day. As the University celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014/15, Trent’s unique approach to personal development through supportive, collaborative community engagement is in more demand than ever. Students lead the way by co-creating experiences rooted in dialogue, diverse perspectives and collaboration. In a learning environment that builds life-long passion for inclusion, leadership and social change, Trent’s students, alumni, faculty and staff are engaged global citizens who are catalysts in developing sustainable solutions to complex issues. Trent’s Peterborough campus boasts award-winning architecture in a breathtaking natural setting on the banks of the Otonabee River, just 90 minutes from downtown Toronto, while Trent University Durham delivers a distinct mix of programming in the GTA.

Trent University’s expertise in water quality could be traced to its proximity to Canada’s Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), a much beleaguered research environment due to federal political imperatives. You can read more about the area and the politics in this Wikipedia entry. BTW, I am delighted to learn that it still exists under the auspices of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD),

Taking this post into nanotechnology territory while mentioning the ELA, Trent University published a Dec. 8, 2014 news release about research into silver nanoparticles,

For several years, Trent University’s Dr. Chris Metcalfe and Dr. Maggie Xenopoulos have dedicated countless hours to the study of aquatic contaminants and the threat they pose to our environment.

Now, through the efforts of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), their research is reaching a wider audience thanks to a new video (Note: A link has been removed).

The video is one of a five-part series being released by the IISD that looks into environmental issues in Canada. The video entitled “Distilling Science at the Experimental Lakes Area: Nanosilver” and featuring Professors Metcalfe and Xenopoulos profiles their research around nanomaterials at the Experimental Lakes Area.

Prof. Xenopolous’ involvement in the project falls in line with other environmental issues she has tackled. In the past, her research has examined how human activities – including climate change, eutrophication and land use – affect ecosystem structure and function in lakes and rivers. She has also taken an interest in how land use affects the material exported and processed in aquatic ecosystems.

Prof. Metcalfe’s ongoing research on the fate and distribution of pharmaceutical and personal care products in the environment has generated considerable attention both nationally and internationally.

Together, their research into nanomaterials is getting some attention. Nanomaterials are submicroscopic particles whose physical and chemical properties make them useful for a variety of everyday applications. They can be found in certain pieces of clothing, home appliances, paint, and kitchenware. Initial laboratory research conducted at Trent University showed that nanosilver could strongly affect aquatic organisms at the bottom of the food chain, such as bacteria, algae and zooplankton.

To further examine these effects in a real ecosystem, a team of researchers from Trent University, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada has been conducting studies at undisclosed lakes in northwestern Ontario. The Lake Ecosystem Nanosilver (LENS) project has been monitoring changes in the lakes’ ecosystem that occur after the addition of nanosilver.

“In our particular case, we will be able to study and understand the effects of only nanosilver because that is the only variable that is going to change,” says Prof. Xenopoulos. “It’s really the only place in the world where we can do that.”

The knowledge gained from the study will help policy-makers make decisions about whether nanomaterials can be a threat to aquatic ecosystems and whether regulatory action is required to control their release into the environment.

You can find the 13 mins. video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nJai_B4YH0#action=share

Shapeshifting frogs, a new species in Ecuador

Caption: This image shows skin texture variation in one individual frog (Pristimantis mutabilis) from Reserva Las Gralarias. Note how skin texture shifts from highly tubercular to almost smooth; also note the relative size of the tubercles on the eyelid, lower lip, dorsum and limbs. Credit: Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

Caption: This image shows skin texture variation in one individual frog (Pristimantis mutabilis) from Reserva Las Gralarias. Note how skin texture shifts from highly tubercular to almost smooth; also note the relative size of the tubercles on the eyelid, lower lip, dorsum and limbs.
Credit: Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

Here’s more about the shapeshifting and how the scientists figured out what the frogs were doing (from a March 23, 2015 Case Western Research University news release on EurekAlert; Note: A link has been removed),

A frog in Ecuador’s western Andean cloud forest changes skin texture in minutes, appearing to mimic the texture it sits on.

Originally discovered by a Case Western Reserve University PhD student and her husband, a projects manager at Cleveland Metroparks’ Natural Resources Division, the amphibian is believed to be the first known to have this shape-shifting capability.

But the new species, called Pristimantis mutabilis, or mutable rainfrog, has company. Colleagues working with the couple recently found that a known relative of the frog shares the same texture-changing quality–but it was never reported before.

The frogs are found at Reserva Las Gralarias, a nature reserve originally created to protect endangered birds in the Parish of Mindo, in north-central Ecuador.

The researchers, Katherine and Tim Krynak, and colleagues from Universidad Indoamérica and Tropical Herping (Ecuador) co-authored a manuscript describing the new animal and skin texture plasticity in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society this week. They believe their findings have broad implications for how species are and have been identified. The process may now require photographs and longer observations in the field to ensure the one species is not mistakenly perceived as two because at least two species of rain frogs can change their appearance.

Katherine Krynak believes the ability to change skin texture to reflect its surroundings may enable P. mutabilis to help camouflage itself from birds and other predators.

The Krynaks originally spotted the small, spiny frog, nearly the width of a marble, sitting on a moss-covered leaf about a yard off the ground on a misty July night in 2009. The Krynaks had never seen this animal before, though Tim had surveyed animals on annual trips to Las Gralarias since 2001, and Katherine since 2005.

They captured the little frog and tucked it into a cup with a lid before resuming their nightly search for wildlife. They nicknamed it “punk rocker” because of the thorn-like spines covering its body.

The next day, Katherine Krynak pulled the frog from the cup and set it on a smooth white sheet of plastic for Tim to photograph. It wasn’t “punk “–it was smooth-skinned. They assumed that, much to her dismay, she must have picked up the wrong frog.

“I then put the frog back in the cup and added some moss,” she said. “The spines came back… we simply couldn’t believe our eyes, our frog changed skin texture!

“I put the frog back on the smooth white background. Its skin became smooth.”

“The spines and coloration help them blend into mossy habitats, making it hard for us to see them,” she said. “But whether the texture really helps them elude predators still needs to be tested.”

During the next three years, a team of fellow biologists studied the frogs. They found the animals shift skin texture in a little more than three minutes.

Juan M. Guayasamin, from Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Ecuador, the manuscript’s first author, performed morphological and genetic analyses showing that P. mutabilis was a unique and undescribed species. Carl R. Hutter, from the University of Kansas, studied the frog’s calls, finding three songs the species uses, which differentiate them from relatives. The fifth author of the paper, Jamie Culebras, assisted with fieldwork and was able to locate a second population of the species. Culebras is a member of Tropical Herping, an organization committed to discovering, and studying reptiles and amphibians.

Guayasamin and Hutter discovered that Prismantis sobetes, a relative with similar markings but about twice the size of P. mutabilis, has the same trait when they placed a spiny specimen on a sheet and watched its skin turn smooth. P. sobetes is the only relative that has been tested so far.

Because the appearance of animals has long been one of the keys to identifying them as a certain species, the researchers believe their find challenges the system, particularly for species identified by one or just a few preserved specimens. With those, there was and is no way to know if the appearance is changeable.

The Krynaks, who helped form Las Gralarias Foundation to support the conservation efforts of the reserve, plan to return to continue surveying for mutable rain frogs and to work with fellow researchers to further document their behaviors, lifecycle and texture shifting, and estimate their population, all in effort to improve our knowledge and subsequent ability to conserve this paradigm shifting species.

Further, they hope to discern whether more relatives have the ability to shift skin texture and if that trait comes from a common ancestor. If P. mutabilis and P. sobetes are the only species within this branch of Pristimantis frogs to have this capability, they hope to learn whether they retained it from an ancestor while relatives did not, or whether the trait evolved independently in each species.

Golden frog of Panama and its skin microbiome

Caption: Researchers studied microbial communities on the skin of Panamanian golden frogs to learn more about amphibian disease resistance. Panamanian golden frogs live only in captivity. Continued studies may help restore them back to the wild. Credit: B. Gratwicke/Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Caption: Researchers studied microbial communities on the skin of Panamanian golden frogs to learn more about amphibian disease resistance. Panamanian golden frogs live only in captivity. Continued studies may help restore them back to the wild.
Credit: B. Gratwicke/Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Among many of the pressures on frog populations, there’s a lethal fungus which has affected some 200 species of frogs. A March 23, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily describes some recent research into the bacterial communities present on frog skin,

A team of scientists including Virginia Tech researchers is one step closer to understanding how bacteria on a frog’s skin affects its likelihood of contracting disease.

A frog-killing fungus known as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd, has already led to the decline of more than 200 amphibian species including the now extinct-in-the-wild Panamanian golden frog.

In a recent study, the research team attempted to apply beneficial bacteria found on the skin of various Bd-resistant wild Panamanian frog species to Panamanian golden frogs in captivity, to see if this would stimulate a defense against the disease.

A March 23, 2015 Virginia Tech University news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, provides a twist and a turn in the story (Note: Links have been removed),

They found that while the treatment with beneficial bacteria was not successful due to its inability to stick to the skin, there were some frogs that survived exposure to the fungus.

These survivors actually had unique bacterial communities on their skin before the experiments started.

The next step is to explore these new bacterial communities.

“We were disappointed that the treatment didn’t work, but glad to have discovered new information about the relationship between these symbiotic microbial communities and amphibian disease resistance,” said Lisa Belden, an associate professor of biological sciences in the College of Science, a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate, and a faculty member with the new Global Change Center at Virginia Tech. “Every bit of information gets us closer to getting these frogs back into nature.”

Studying the microbial communities of Panamanian golden frogs was the dissertation focus of Belden’s former graduate student Matthew Becker, who graduated with a Ph.D. in biological sciences from Virginia Tech in 2014 and is now a fellow at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

“Anything that can help us predict resistance to this disease is very useful because the ultimate goal of this research is to establish healthy populations of golden frogs in their native habitat,” Becker told Smithsonian Science News. “I think identifying alternative probiotic treatment methods that optimize dosages and exposure times will be key for moving forward with the use of probiotics to mitigate chytridiomycosis.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Composition of symbiotic bacteria predicts survival in Panamanian golden frogs infected with a lethal fungus by Matthew H. Becker , Jenifer B. Walke , Shawna Cikanek , Anna E. Savage , Nichole Mattheus , Celina N. Santiago , Kevin P. C. Minbiole , Reid N. Harris , Lisa K. Belden , Brian Gratwicke. April 2015 Volume: 282 Issue: 1805 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.2881 Published 18 March 2015

This is an open access paper.

For anyone curious about the article in the Smithsonian mentioned in the news release, you can find it here.


Government of Canada’s risk assessment for multi-walled carbon nanotubes

Lynn Bergeson’s Jan. 15, 2015 post on the Nanotechnology Now website mentions a newly issued Canadian risk assessment for multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs),

Canada announced on January 9, 2015, that the New Substances Program has published six new risk assessment summaries for chemicals and polymers, including a summary for multi-wall carbon nanotubes.

… Environment Canada and Health Canada conduct risk assessments on new substances. These assessments include consideration of information on physical and chemical properties, hazards, uses, and exposure to determine whether a substance is or may become harmful to human health or environment as set out in Section 64 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999), and, if harm is suspected, to introduce any appropriate or required control measures. …

Here’s more information from the Summary of Risk Assessment Conducted Pursuant to subsection 83(1) of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
Significant New Activity No. 17192: Multi-wall carbon nanotubes webpage,

Substance Identity

The substance is a short tangled multi-walled carbon nanotube that can be classified as a nanomaterial. [emphasis mine]

Notified Activities

The substance is proposed to be manufactured in or imported into Canada in quantities greater than 1000 kg/yr for use as an additive in plastics.

Environmental Fate and Behaviour

Based on its physical and chemical properties, if released to the environment, the substance will tend to partition to water, sediment, soil, and ambient air. The substance is expected to be persistent in these compartments because it is a stable inorganic chemical that will not degrade. Based on the limited understanding of uptake by organisms, more data is required to assess the bioaccumulation potential of this substance at the current schedule notification.

Ecological Assessment

Based on the available hazard information on the substance and surrogate data on structurally related nanomaterials, the substance has low to moderate (1-100 mg/L) acute toxicity in aquatic life (fish/daphnia/algae). The predicted no effect concentration was calculated to be less than 1 mg/L using the ErC50 from the most sensitive organism (P. subcapitata), which was used to estimate the environmental risk.

The notified and other potential activities in Canada were assessed to estimate the environmental exposure potential of the substance throughout its life cycle. Environmental exposure from the notified activities was determined through a conservative generic single point-source release blending scenario. The predicted environmental concentration for notified activities is estimated to be 2.1 µg/L.

Based on the current use profile in conjunction with low to moderate ecotoxicity endpoints, the substance is unlikely to cause ecological harm in Canada.

However, based on the current understanding of carbon nanotubes and nanomaterials in general, a change in the use profile of the substance (SNAc No. 17192) may significantly alter the exposure resulting in the substance becoming harmful to the environment.  Consequently, more information is necessary to better characterize potential environmental risks.

Human Health Assessment

Based on the available hazard information on the substance, the substance has a low potential for acute toxicity by the oral, dermal and inhalation routes of exposure (oral and dermal LD50 greater than 2000 mg/kg bw; inhalation LC50 greater than 1.3 mg/m3). It is a severe eye irritant (MAS score = 68), a mild skin irritant (PII = 1.08) and at most a weak sensitizer (because the positive control was tested at a concentration 10X higher than the test substance). It is not an in vitro mutagen (negative in a mammalian cell gene mutation test and in a mammalian chromosome aberration test).  Therefore the substance is unlikely to cause genetic damage.

Hazards related to substances used in the workplace should be classified accordingly under the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).

However, based on the available information on structurally related nanomaterials, the substance may cause respiratory toxicity, immunotoxicity, cardiovascular toxicity and carcinogenicity following oral and inhalation exposure.

When used as an additive in plastics, the substance is expected to be manufactured in or imported into Canada encapsulated in a solid polymer matrix. The potential site of exposure to the substance is expected to be within industrial facilities. Therefore, direct exposure of the general population is expected to be low. No significant environmental release is anticipated due to the specialized use under this notification and therefore indirect exposure of the general population from environmental media is also expected to be low. However, if the substance is produced in different forms (e.g. liquid polymer form), applied in different formulations or used in any other potential applications, an increased direct or indirect exposure potential may exist.

Based on the low potential for direct and indirect exposure of the general population under the industrial uses identified in this submission, the substance is not likely to pose a significant health risk to the general population, and is therefore unlikely to be harmful to human health.

However, based on the current understanding of carbon nanotubes and of nanomaterials in general, the risk arising from the use of the substance in consumer products is not known at this time.  The use of the substance in consumer products or in products intended for use by or for children may significantly alter the exposure of the general population resulting in the substance becoming harmful to human health.  Similarly, the import or manufacture of the substance in quantities greater than 10 000 kg/yr may significantly increase the exposure levels of the general population resulting in the substance becoming harmful to human health.  Consequently, more information is necessary to better characterize potential health risks.

I would like to see a definition for the word short as applied, in this risk assessment, to multi-walled carbon nanotubes. That said, this assessment is pretty much in line with current thinking about short, multi-walled carbon nanotubes. In short (wordplay noted), these carbon nanotubes are relatively safe (although some toxicological issues have been noted) as far as can be determined. However, the ‘relatively safe’ assessment may change as more of these carbon nanotubes enter the environment and as people are introduced to more products containing them.

One last comment, I find it surprising I can’t find any mention in the risk assessment of emergency situations such as fire, earthquake, explosions, etc. which could conceivably release short multi-walled carbon nanotubes into the air exposing emergency workers and people caught in a disaster. As well, those airborne materials might subsequently be found in greater quantity in the soil and water.

OECD’s (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) latest report on its regulating manufactured nanomaterials questionnaire

As I have commented on several occasions, most of my information about Canada’s activities with regard to risk and nanomaterials comes from outside the country, notably the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).

Thanks* to Lynn Bergeson and her Sept. 17, 2014 posting on Nanotechnology Now for information about the latest publication from the OECD’s Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials (Note: a link has been removed),

On September 16, 2014, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a document entitled Report of the Questionnaire on Regulatory Regimes for Manufactured Nanomaterials 2010-2011. … The Report summarizes responses to the Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials (WPMN) Questionnaire on Regulated Nanomaterials: 2010-2011, which was issued July 12, 2012. The Questionnaire contained four sections related to the oversight of nanomaterials in various OECD jurisdictions: regulatory updates; definitions and/or legal approaches for nanomaterials by jurisdiction; regulatory challenges; and opportunities for collaboration.

You can find all of the reports from the OECD’s WPMN here, including this latest report, which is no. 42, Report of the questionnaire on regulatory regimes for manufactured nanomaterials 2010-201, ENV/JM/MONO(2014)28. This is the third time there’s been a questionnaire and subsequent report.

I have quickly skimmed through the report and found a few interesting items about Canada’s current activities and collaborations vis à vis manufactured nanomaterials and risk. From the REPORT OF THE QUESTIONNAIRE ON REGULATORY REGIMES FOR MANUFACTURED NANOMATERIALS 2010-2011 which appears to have been published Sept. 4, 2014. I have had an unusually difficult time including excerpts from the report along with page numbers, etc. On the first try, after almost an hour of cutting and pasting, I was unable to get an intelligible version into a preview. To all intents and purposes the text was in place but the preview attempt resulted in a bizarre column of text overwriting the sidebar to the right of the posts.

I tried again and found that extensive reformatting was necessary and that the original table format has been lost. Nonetheless. you will find there are two pieces of legislation being reported on, CEPA (1999), which I believe has something to do with Environment Canada, and F&DA, which seems to be associated with Health Canada. One or both pieces of legislation may be referenced as per the OECD report. Page numbers from the document are included after the excerpted table entries.

Table 12: Hazard identification …

CEPA (1999)

Extrapolation between nanomaterials (i.e., choosing the appropriate surrogate)

Validity of testing methods and analytical tools to detect, characterize and measure nanomaterials

Participating in international forums such as the WPMN [OECD Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials], Expert Meetings, and ISO [International Standards Organization] TC/229 to support the generation and synthesis of appropriate science.

Support domestic research to help minimize challenges in hazard identification.


Nanomaterial-based products under the F&DA (i.e. nanomedicines) can be associated with a broad spectrum of toxicities that are dependent on the nanoparticle properties (e.g. size, surface charge and solubility). However, there is currently no specific guidance document available for nanomedicines. Nanoparticle properties can significantly impact the PK profile/biodistribution of nanomedicines resulting in safety concerns. The components of the nanomedicines can also interact with the immune system and may trigger unique immunogenicity/immunotoxicity profile. Animals are generally not predictive of immunological responses for biologics (however, it may not be the case if the nanomedicine is a chemical drug), it is likely that immunological studies for nanomedicines should be carried out in human clinical trials. Long term studies may be required for a nanomaterial that persist and accumulated in particular tissues for an extended period of time.  p. 45

Table 13: Health and safety …

F&DA Veterinary Drugs

Due to the lack of a comprehensive understanding of the effects of nanomaterials on human, animal and environmental health, the Veterinary Drugs Directorate has not yet established a comprehensive occupational health and safety policy. Moreover, occupational health and safety is a shared responsibility between the federal and provincial governments in Canada.

At this time, there is no conclusive evidence linking exposure of nanomaterials from veterinary drugs or food sources to negative impact on human health. Additional research is necessary before a definitive policy approach can be taken.

F&DA Veterinary Drugs
Veterinary drugs including those that contain nanomaterials are regulated by the Food and Drugs Act and the Food and Drug Regulations. These provide the Veterinary Drugs Directorate with the authority to regulate the human health and safety aspects of veterinary drug products. The Regulations cover the aspects of the manufacturing, human and animal safety and efficacy assessment, and post-market surveillance of veterinary drug products including those containing nanomaterials. The latter products are subject to the same rigorous assessments as non-nanomaterial-containing veterinary drug products. p. 47

Table 14: Risk Assessment Methodologies

CEPA (1999)

Our understanding of risk assessments of nanomaterials is still evolving. Nanomaterials regulated under the industrial chemicals program employ a precautionary approach (i.e., exposure is typically mitigated), and nano-relevant information is requested whenever appropriate to conduct more informed risk assessments.

Canada also continues to work in international projects, such as the international life sciences institute NanoRelease project aimed at developing methods to quantify releases of nanomaterials from solid matrices.

Canada is also part of the Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) Nanotechnology Initiative with the United States. Under this project, Canada and the US are developing a classification scheme for nanomaterials to inform on the utilization of analogue/read- across, developing frameworks and common assumptions to better
inform risk assessments, and mining public and confidential use information to increase marketplace knowledge of nanomaterials. p. 49

Table 15: Risk Management and Nanomaterials in Commerce …

CEPA (1999)

Knowledge of use profiles of industrial nanomaterials; lack of specificity in risk
management measures given the overall lack of information and nomenclature systems for nanomaterials

Under the RCC, Canada and the US are gathering information on the uses of industrial nanomaterials in the two countries.  p. 52

Table 16: Research … (to support regulatory decisions)

CEPA (1999)

– foster domestic and international capacity to generate research on risk assessment priorities and needs
– applying research findings to nanomaterial risk assessments
– using research on nanomaterials to extrapolate to other nanomaterials

– Canada is actively supporting domestic and international research projects to help inform risk assessments.


Filling knowledge gaps

HC [Health Canada] is conducting laboratory research to study the effects of lipid nanoparticles on the thermal stability of various recombinant proteins with the aim of identifying determinants of susceptibility to unintended deleterious interactions.  p. 55

Table 17: Impact of Regulatory Actions and Innovations and Economic Growth

CEPA (1999)

How to obtain the necessary information on nanomaterials, and how to regulate them in a manner that does not prevent them from offering their many benefits to society.

Consult with industry on proposed approaches. Focus information requests and requirements.  pp. 56/7

Table 18: Labelling Communication of Nanomaterials …

CEPA (1999)

Labelling of nanomaterials has not been considered under CEPA 1999 to date. p. 58

Table 19: Collaboration with other countries …

CEPA (1999) & F&DA

New Substances Program is involved in various international activities, including:
1) International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee (TC) 229 on Nanotechnologies
2) Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Working Party on
Manufactured Nanomaterials (WPMN) and Working Party on Nanotechnology (WPN)
3) Canada-US Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC)
4) International Cooperation on Cosmetic Regulation (ICCR) – 2 Reports have been published
a) Criteria and Methods of Detection for Nanomaterials in Cosmetics:
b) Methods for Characterization of Nanomaterials in Cosmetics
5) International Regulators Nanotechnology Working Group
6) International Life Sciences Institutes (ILSI) – NanoRelease Food Additive Project
7) NanoLyse

In addition, for veterinary drugs, Health Canada collaborates with other regulatory agencies in USA, Europe, Australia, etc in the regulation of non-nanomaterial products and substances and would do the same for substances that are, or products containing nanomaterials pp. 59/60

Table 19: Expert Workshop Sponsorship [table number repetition noted]

CEPA (1999)

The Workshop on the Human and Environmental Risk Assessment of Nanomaterials convened by Health Canada and Environment Canada (March 24-26, 2010) provided an open forum for detailed dialogue on nanomaterials among science evaluators, research scientists and regulators. The Workshop was attended by 25 experts from Australia, Canada, Europe, Korea and the United States of America. In addition, seven observers attended the Workshop.

Regulatory Cooperation Council with the United States

F&DA Foods

Health Canada will be hosting a Joint NanoLyse/NanoRelease Workshop to discuss methods and safety of nanomaterials and share information from the respective projects. NanoLyse is an EU research consortium to develop methods of analysis for engineered nano-materials in foods and NanoRelease is an International Life Sciences Institute lead initiative to develop of analytical methods, alimentary canal models for uptake of engineered nano-materials and review of regulatory issues. p. 61

In any event, good luck with the reading and you can find out more about NanoLyse here and more about Canadian participation in the NanoRelease Food Additive Steering Committee project here.

* ‘Thank’s’ changed to ‘Thanks’ on April 7, 2015

Deadline extension (travel grants and poster abstracts) for alternate testing strategies (ATS) of nanomaterials workshop

It seems there have been a couple of deadline extensions (to August 1, 2014) for the September 15-16, 2014 ‘Workshop to Explore How a Multiple Models Approach can Advance Risk Analysis of Nanoscale Materials’ in Washington, DC (first mentioned in my July 10, 2014 posting featuring a description of the workshop). You can go here to submit a poster abstract (from any country) and you can go here if you’re a student or young professional (from any country) in search of a $500 travel award.

I managed to speak to one of the organizers, Lorraine Sheremeta, (Assistant Director, Ingenuity Lab, University of Alberta and co-author a July 9, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article about the workshop). Lorraine (Lori) kindly spoke to me about the upcoming workshop, which she described as an academic conference,.

As I understand what she told me, the hosts for the September 15-16, 2014 Workshop to Explore How a Multiple Models Approach can Advance Risk Analysis of Nanoscale Materials in Washington, DC want to attract a multidisciplinary group of people to grapple with a few questions. First, they want to establish a framework for establishing which are the best test methods for nanomaterials. Second, they are trying to move away from animal testing and want to establish which methods are equal to or better than animal testing. Thirdly, they want to discuss what they are going to do with the toxicological data  that we have  been collecting on nanomaterials for years now.

Or, as she and her colleague from the Society of Risk Analysis (Jo Anne Shatkin) have put in it in their Nanowerk Spotlight article:

… develop a report on the State of the Science for ATS for nanomaterials, catalogue of existing and emerging ATS [alternate testing strategies] methods in a database; and develop a case study to inform workshop deliberations and expert recommendations

The collaborative team behind this event includes, the University of Alberta’s Ingenuity Lab, the Society for Risk Analysis, Environment Canada, Health Canada, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials (WPMN) .

The speaker lineup isn’t settled at this time although they have confirmed Vicki Stone of Heriot-Watt University in Scotland (from her university bio page),

Vicki Stone, Professor of Toxicology, studies the effects of nanomaterials on humans and environmentally relevant species.  Current research projects investigate the mechanism of toxicity of a range of nanomaterials in cells of the immune system (macrophages and neutrophils), liver (hepatocytes) , gastrointestinal tract, blood vessels (endothelium) and lung.  She is interested in interactions between nanomaterials, proteins and lipids, and how this influences subsequent toxicity.  Current projects also develop in vitro alternatives using microfluidics as well as high resolution imaging of individual nanomaterials in 3D and over time.  In addition Vicki collaborates with ecotoxicologists to investigate the impacts of nanomaterials on aquatic organisms. Vicki coordinated a European project to identify the research priorities to develop an intelligent testing strategy for nanomaterials (www.its-nano.eu).

Vicki is Director of the Nano Safety Research Group at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, and Director of Toxicology for SAFENANO (www.safenano.org). She has acted as the Editor-in-chief of the journal Nanotoxicology (http://informahealthcare.com/nan) for 6 years (2006-2011). Vicki has also published over 130 publications pertaining to particle toxicology over the last 16 years and has provided evidence for the government commissioned reports published by the Royal Society (2003) and the on Environmental Pollution (2008).  Vicki was previously a member of the UK Government Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP) and an advisory board member for the Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT; funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency)).

A representative from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) will also be speaking. I believe that will be Amy Clippinger (from the PETA website’s Regulatory Testing webpage; scroll down about 70% of the way),

Science adviser Amy Clippinger has a Ph.D. in cellular and molecular biology and genetics and several years of research experience at the University of Pennsylvania.

PETA representatives have been to at least one other conference on the topic of nano, toxicology, and animal testing as per my April 24, 2014 posting about NANOTOX 2014 in Turkey,

Writing about nanotechnology can lead you in many different directions such as the news about PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and its poster presentation at the NanoTox 2014 conference being held in Antalya, Turkey from April 23 – 26, 2014. From the April 22, 2014 PETA news release on EurekAlert,

PETA International Science Consortium Ltd.’s nanotechnology expert will present a poster titled “A tiered-testing strategy for nanomaterial hazard assessment” at the 7th International Nanotoxicology Congress [NanoTox 2014] to be held April 23-26, 2014, in Antalya, Turkey.

Dr. Monita Sharma will outline a strategy consistent with the 2007 report from the US National Academy of Sciences, “Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy,” which recommends use of non-animal methods involving human cells and cell lines for mechanistic pathway–based toxicity studies.

There is a lot of interest internationally in improving how we test for toxicity of nanomaterials. As well, the drive to eliminate or minimize as much as possible the use of animals in testing seems to be gaining momentum.

Good luck to everyone submitting a poster abstract and/or an application for a travel grant!

In case you don’t want to scroll up, the SRA nano workshop website is here.

Canada-US joint Regulatory Cooperation Council nanotechnology initiative completed and Canada endorses OECD nanomaterials recommendation

Thanks to Lynn Bergeson’s July 9, 2014 posting on Nanotechnology Now, I learned the Canada-US joint Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) nanotechnology initiative has completed its work and will be filing final reports later this summer (2014).

I have featured the RCC here in at least three postings, a Dec. 3, 2012 posting, a June 26, 2013 posting, and a January 21, 2014 posting. Briefly, the RCC was first announced in 2011 and is intended to harmonize Canadian and US regulatory frameworks in a number of areas including, agriculture and food, transportation, personal care products and pharmaceuticals and more. Significantly, nanotechnology was also part of their portfolio.

The latest information about RCC doings was obtained from the Canadian government’s 2014 summer issue of the Chemicals Management Plan (CMP) Progress Report (a second thank you for Bergeson for information about this publication),

The Canada-U.S. Regulatory Cooperation Council Nanotechnology Initiative is now complete. Canada and the U.S. are implementing the new approaches and lessons learned in risk assessments of nanomaterials. An important outcome of the initiative is the development of consistent policy principles on the regulatory oversight of nanomaterials, which have now been endorsed by the Government of Canada. Watch for the publication of the final reports from the Canada-U.S. Regulatory Cooperation Council Nanotechnology Initiative this summer. The reports will include recommendations about ways in which Canada and the U.S. can align their nanomaterial regulatory work, including the application of consistent risk assessment approaches and methodologies and identifying categories of nanomaterials.

The 2014 CMP summer issue offers a second tidbit of information. This time it’s about Canada and the OECD,

Canada has endorsed a recommendation from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Council on the Safety Testing and Assessment of Manufactured Nanomaterials. The recommendation states that countries “apply the existing international and national chemical regulatory frameworks or other management systems, adapted to take into account the specific properties of manufactured nanomaterials.” The recommendation was based on the work of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials, which is a harmonization effort to inform regulatory programs regarding the environmental and health and safety implications of manufactured nanomaterials.

For enthusiasts, Canada’s Chemicals Management Plan progress report is expected to be published twice/year. There are now two issues available, the first with a Dec. 30, 2013 publication date. Here’s more about the CMP progress reports,

The Chemicals Management Plan Progress Report has been created to keep stakeholders and other interested parties up to date on the activities and programs related to Canada’s Chemicals Management Plan (CMP). The report is produced jointly by Environment Canada and Health Canada and will be published twice a year. It will report on advances in major initiatives and highlight key activities related to the Government of Canada’s recent work under the CMP. It will also inform you about coming events, dates of interest and how to get involved.

We encourage you to share the reports with anyone who may be interested. We also welcome your feedback or suggestions. We can be reached at Substances@ec.gc.ca.

Anyone interested in more information about the RCC (Regulatory Cooperation Council) and its nanotechnology efforts can find it here.

An upcoming alternate testing strategies (ATS) for nanomaterials workshop and the quest to reduce animal testing

It’s too late to announce a call for poster abstracts or travel awards but that still leaves the possibility of attending a September 15-16, 2014 Workshop to Explore How a Multiple Models Approach can Advance Risk Analysis of Nanoscale Materials in Washington, DC. In a July 9, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article,, Jo Anne Shatkin (President, Vireo Advisors) and Lorraine Sheremeta (Assistant Director, Ingenuity Lab, University of Alberta) tout the workshop in the context of describing new approaches to nanotoxicology research (Note: A link has been removed),

Engineered nanoscale materials (ENM or ‘nanomaterials’) offer the potential to create safer and more effective products through the use of smaller quantities of improved performance materials. Currently nanomaterials are used to improve the performance of life-saving drugs and medical technologies, to make renewable energy more efficient, to make value added products from industrial waste streams, to improve food, packaging, to lightweight materials used in transportation systems, and to improve many of the personal care products that we use every day. Nanomaterial manufacture and use is expected to increase over the coming years and despite the widespread use of nanomaterials in a variety of consumer products, we are only beginning to understand the impacts of these emerging materials on our health and the environment. To this end, the University of Alberta’s Ingenuity Lab is collaborating with the Society for Risk Analysis to evaluate the potential to use alternative test strategies (ATS) to improve our ability to assess nanomaterial toxicity and environmental impact.

Shatkin and Sheremeta describe toxicology tests and explain the importance of refining and improving these tests (from the article),

Standard in vivo toxicology test methods that depend heavily on the use of animals have long been used to assess chemical safety. [emphasis mine*] Existing and novel in vitro and in silico test methods provide important alternatives to in vivo animal testing for chemicals and potentially for ENM. Genotoxicity tests, for example, are used to assess the mutagenic potential of chemicals or nanomaterials in the replication of DNA in cells. Driven in part by increasing market and regulatory requirements for safer and more sustainable products, large international infrastructure has developed for creating, testing and validating in vitro test methods, and its use is expanding to chemical and nanomaterial assessment (NSF, 2007). The goals of reducing, refining and replacing animal testing (the commonly cited ‘three Rs’) – resonate with key and diverse stakeholders including animal rights groups, the bioethics community, the pharmaceutical industry, regulatory agencies and the broader public. [emphasis mine*]

Despite nearly a decade of effort in the conduct toxicology and exposure research to inform the assessment of health and environmental risks of nanomaterials, major gaps remain in the ability to understand and quantify risks. While there is now a large body of published data on carbon nanotubes and metal oxide nanoparticles, concern has been raised that speculation about nanomaterial risk has hardened into an assumption that there are ‘as-yet-to-be-discovered risks’ that we must identify and manage (Maynard, 2014) that demands extensive testing.

The authors describe ATS (alternative test strategies) in greater detail,

ATS approaches are regarded by many to have the potential for rapid screening of large numbers and types of materials. They can include a breadth of techniques including high throughput screening methods (HTS), high content screening, computational approaches, toxicogenomics, cell-based methods, in vitro assays and non-mammalian whole animal models. The emergence of ATS raises questions about how the results of these methods may be used for assessing the potential risks of ENM. For instance, ATS could be used in combination in a multiple models approach to evaluate new ENM in a number of rapid assays and compare with well-studied substances using in vivo testing; thereby identifying ENM for additional testing in a more strategic fashion than is possible through conventional testing approaches.

They also describe the current state of affairs with ATS,

In the United States, the U.S. ToxCast program has, as part of their 21st century toxicity screening program (NRC, 2007), tested 29 NMs with 62 in vitro test methods (Wang et al. 2013). Many researchers, including several from the University of Alberta, have proposed and developed ATS to include a variety of methods, some which are standardized for chemicals, and others which take advantage of developments including advanced biological mechanistic understanding, genomics, metabolomics, automation and informatics. However, these existing as well as emerging ATS have a short history with nanomaterials, and have not yet proven to be reliable for quantitative estimation of ENM risk. Still, several international efforts have developed ATS that have potential to be used for screening purposes, and to guide further testing priorities for regulatory decision making. The goal of the September [2014] workshop by the Society for Risk Analysis is to explore ways in which distinct ATS may be used for screening and prioritizing the need for more extensive testing of novel ENM.

The parties (including the authors of the article) involved in developing this risk workshop are listed, also mentioned are members of the international testing scene,

Lori Sheremeta, the Assistant Director of Ingenuity Lab in Edmonton Alberta and past Chair of the Society for Risk Analysis (SRA) Emerging Nanoscale Materials Specialty Group (ENMSG), is collaborating with U.S.-based nanomaterials risk expert Jo Anne Shatkin (an SRA Councilor and co-founder of the SRA ENMSG), Environment Canada, Health Canada, the SRA ENMSG and others on a Pilot Project with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials (WPMN) to develop a report on the State of the Science for ATS for nanomaterials, catalogue of existing and emerging ATS methods in a database; and develop a case study to inform workshop deliberations and expert recommendations.

There are many international efforts to develop, as well as to validate and standardize, these methods for chemicals, including organizations such as the US National Toxicology Program Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods (ICCVAM), the European Union Reference Laboratory European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (EURL ECVAM), the Japanese Center for the Validation of Alternative Methods (JacVAM), the Korean Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (KoCVAM) and the OECD. There is wide recognition that the diversity of NMs renders it impractical to use traditional animal testing to evaluate safety, hence there is significant interest in assessing the performance of both existing and emerging alternative testing strategies for NMs. Further, the EU directive REACH (Directive 2006/121/EC) requires replacing in vivo testing, and there is widespread popular agreement about the desire to limit animal testing. Finally, there is a need for more biologically informative toxicology methods (Hartung, 2010; Silbergeld et al, 2011; Landsiedel et al, 2009).

A list of the workshop objectives is offered  in the article,

The main objectives of the workshop are to:

assess the state of the science on HTS and ATS from a ‘multiple models’ perspective to identify areas of common findings from differing approaches, areas of greatest uncertainty, and priorities for follow up in applied research toward risk assessment of ENM;
evaluate the ability to use data from ATS/HTS methods for screening purposes – combining suites of assays and comparing well-studied substances to novel ones;

assess the ability to use a suite of ATS methods to amplify the Weight of Evidence;

characterize uncertainty associated with predictive relationships and propose strategies to address uncertainties;

elicit the perspectives of diverse stakeholders about the use of HTS/ATS for screening purposes in risk analysis of ENM; and

develop a set of recommendations for these alternative approaches to become more widely adopted for environmental, health and safety decision making about ENM across the product life cycle. The output of the workshop holds potential for transformation through risk screening approaches that promote safer and more sustainable material and technology development.

You can find more about the September 15-16, 2014 Workshop to Explore How a Multiple Models Approach can Advance Risk Analysis of Nanoscale Materials in Washington, DC here.

The text in the article is a bit rough. Some of the ideas and topics don’t follow each other logically. So, be prepared to spend a little time reading, Happily, there are references included with the article.

I last mentioned Jo Anne Shatkin here in the context of a 2013 paper on alternative test strategies (ATS) in an Aug. 22, 2013 posting. I think the most recent mention of Lorraine Sheremeta here is in a Jan. 11, 2010 posting about Canada, nanotechnology, and food.

Final note, I am hoping to get some more information about the workshop and ATS scene from Lorraine Sheremeta to be published in a subsequent posting.

* I added the emphases at 0830 hours PDT July 10, 2014.

Does digitizing material mean it’s safe? A tale of Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans scientific libraries

As has been noted elsewhere the federal government of Canada has shut down a number of Fisheries and Oceans Canada libraries in a cost-saving exercise. The government is hoping to save some $440,000 in the 2014-15 fiscal year by digitizing, consolidating, and discarding the libraries and their holdings.

One would imagine that this is being done in a measured, thoughtful fashion but one would be wrong.

Andrew Nikiforuk in a December 23, 2013 article for The Tyee wrote one of the first articles about the closure of the fisheries libraries,

Scientists say the closure of some of the world’s finest fishery, ocean and environmental libraries by the Harper government has been so chaotic that irreplaceable collections of intellectual capital built by Canadian taxpayers for future generations has been lost forever.

Glyn Moody in a Jan. 7, 2014 post on Techdirt noted this,

What’s strange is that even though the rationale for this mass destruction is apparently in order to reduce costs, opportunities to sell off more valuable items have been ignored. A scientist is quoted as follows:

“Hundreds of bound journals, technical reports and texts still on the shelves, presumably meant for the garbage or shredding. I saw one famous monograph on zooplankton, which would probably fetch a pretty penny at a used science bookstore… anybody could go in and help themselves, with no record kept of who got what.”

Gloria Galloway in a Jan. 7, 2014 article for the Globe and Mail adds more details about what has been lost,

Peter Wells, an adjunct professor and senior research fellow at the International Ocean Institute at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said it is not surprising few members of the public used the libraries. But “the public benefits by the researchers and the different research labs being able to access the information,” he said.

Scientists say it is true that most modern research is done online.

But much of the material in the DFO libraries was not available digitally, Dr. Wells said, adding that some of it had great historical value. And some was data from decades ago that researchers use to determine how lakes and rivers have changed.

“I see this situation as a national tragedy, done under the pretext of cost savings, which, when examined closely, will prove to be a false motive,” Dr. Wells said. “A modern democratic society should value its information resources, not reduce, or worse, trash them.”

Dr. Ayles [Burton Ayles, a former DFO regional director and the former director of science for the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg] said the Freshwater Institute had reports from the 1880s and some that were available nowhere else. “There was a whole core people who used that library on a regular basis,” he said.

Dr. Ayles pointed to a collection of three-ringed binders, occupying seven metres of shelf space, that contained the data collected during a study in the 1960s and 1970s of the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline. For a similar study in the early years of this century, he said, “scientists could go back to that information and say, ‘What was the baseline 30 years ago? What was there then and what is there now?’ ”

When asked how much of the discarded information has been digitized, the government did not provide an answer, but said the process continues.

Today, Margo McDiarmid’s Jan. 30, 2014 article for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) news online further explores digitization of the holdings,

Fisheries and Oceans is closing seven of its 11 libraries by 2015. It’s hoping to save more than $443,000 in 2014-15 by consolidating its collections into four remaining libraries.

Shea [Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea] told CBC News in a statement Jan. 6 that all copyrighted material has been digitized and the rest of the collection will be soon. The government says that putting material online is a more efficient way of handling it.

But documents from her office show there’s no way of really knowing that is happening.

“The Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ systems do not enable us to determine the number of items digitized by location and collection,” says the response by the minister’s office to MacAulay’s inquiry. [emphasis mine]

The documents also that show the department had to figure out what to do with 242,207 books and research documents from the libraries being closed. It kept 158,140 items and offered the remaining 84,067 to libraries outside the federal government.

Shea’s office told CBC that the books were also “offered to the general public and recycled in a ‘green fashion’ if there were no takers.”

The fate of thousands of books appears to be “unknown,” although the documents’ numbers show 160 items from the Maurice Lamontagne Library in Mont Jolie, Que., were “discarded.”  A Radio-Canada story in June about the library showed piles of volumes in dumpsters.

And the numbers prove a lot more material was tossed out. The bill to discard material from four of the seven libraries totals $22,816.76

Leaving aside the issue of whether or not rare books were given away or put in dumpsters, It’s not confidence-building when the government minister can’t offer information about which books have been digitized and where they might located online.

Interestingly,  Fisheries and Oceans is not the only department/ministry shutting down libraries (from McDiarmid’s CBC article),

Fisheries and Oceans is just one of the 14 federal departments, including Health Canada and Environment Canada, that have been shutting physical libraries and digitizing or consolidating the material into closed central book vaults.

I was unaware of the problems with Health Canada’s libraries but Laura Payton’s and Max Paris’ Jan. 20, 2014 article for CBC news online certainly raised my eyebrows,

Health Canada scientists are so concerned about losing access to their research library that they’re finding workarounds, with one squirrelling away journals and books in his basement for colleagues to consult, says a report obtained by CBC News.

The draft report from a consultant hired by the department warned it not to close its library, but the report was rejected as flawed and the advice went unheeded.

Before the main library closed, the inter-library loan functions were outsourced to a private company called Infotrieve, the consultant wrote in a report ordered by the department. The library’s physical collection was moved to the National Science Library on the Ottawa campus of the National Research Council last year.

“Staff requests have dropped 90 per cent over in-house service levels prior to the outsource. This statistic has been heralded as a cost savings by senior HC [Health Canada] management,” the report said.

“However, HC scientists have repeatedly said during the interview process that the decrease is because the information has become inaccessible — either it cannot arrive in due time, or it is unaffordable due to the fee structure in place.”


The report noted the workarounds scientists used to overcome their access problems.

Mueller [Dr. Rudi Mueller, who left the department in 2012] used his contacts in industry for scientific literature. He also went to university libraries where he had a faculty connection.

The report said Health Canada scientists sometimes use the library cards of university students in co-operative programs at the department.

Unsanctioned libraries have been created by science staff.

“One group moved its 250 feet of published materials to an employee’s basement. When you need a book, you email ‘Fred,’ and ‘Fred’ brings the book in with him the next day,” the consultant wrote in his report.

“I think it’s part of being a scientist. You find a way around the problems,” Mueller told CBC News.

Unsanctioned, underground libraries aside, the assumption that digitizing documents and books ensures access is false.  Glyn Moody in a Nov. 12, 2013 article for Techdirt gives a chastening example of how vulnerable our digital memories are,

The Internet Archive is the world’s online memory, holding the only copies of many historic (and not-so-historic) Web pages that have long disappeared from the Web itself.

Bad news:

This morning at about 3:30 a.m. a fire started at the Internet Archive’s San Francisco scanning center.

Good news:

no one was hurt and no data was lost. Our main building was not affected except for damage to one electrical run. This power issue caused us to lose power to some servers for a while.

Bad news:

Some physical materials were in the scanning center because they were being digitized, but most were in a separate locked room or in our physical archive and were not lost. Of those materials we did unfortunately lose, about half had already been digitized. We are working with our library partners now to assess.

That loss is unfortunate, but imagine if the fire had been in the main server room holding the Internet Archive’s 2 petabytes of data. Wisely, the project has placed copies at other locations …

That’s good to know, but it seems rather foolish for the world to depend on the Internet Archive always being able to keep all its copies up to date, especially as the quantity of data that it stores continues to rise. This digital library is so important in historical and cultural terms: surely it’s time to start mirroring the Internet Archive around the world in many locations, with direct and sustained support from multiple governments.

In addition to the issue of vulnerability, there’s also the issue of authenticity, from my June 5, 2013 posting about science, archives and memories,

… Luciana Duranti [Professor and Chair, MAS {Master of Archival Studies}Program at the University of British Columbia and Director, InterPARES] and her talk titled, Trust and Authenticity in the Digital Environment: An Increasingly Cloudy Issue, which took place in Vancouver (Canada) last year (mentioned in my May 18, 2012 posting).

Duranti raised many, many issues that most of us don’t consider when we blithely store information in the ‘cloud’ or create blogs that turn out to be repositories of a sort (and then don’t know what to do with them; ça c’est moi). She also previewed a Sept. 26 – 28, 2013 conference to be hosted in Vancouver by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), “Memory of the World in the Digital Age: Digitization and Preservation.” (UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme hosts a number of these themed conferences and workshops.)

The Sept. 2013 UNESCO ‘memory of the world’ conference in Vancouver seems rather timely in retrospect. The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) announced that Dr. Doug Owram would be chairing their Memory Institutions and the Digital Revolution assessment (mentioned in my Feb. 22, 2013 posting; scroll down 80% of the way) and, after checking recently, I noticed that the Expert Panel has been assembled and it includes Duranti. Here’s the assessment description from the CCA’s ‘memory institutions’ webpage,

Library and Archives Canada has asked the Council of Canadian Academies to assess how memory institutions, which include archives, libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions, can embrace the opportunities and challenges of the changing ways in which Canadians are communicating and working in the digital age.


Over the past three decades, Canadians have seen a dramatic transformation in both personal and professional forms of communication due to new technologies. Where the early personal computer and word-processing systems were largely used and understood as extensions of the typewriter, advances in technology since the 1980s have enabled people to adopt different approaches to communicating and documenting their lives, culture, and work. Increased computing power, inexpensive electronic storage, and the widespread adoption of broadband computer networks have thrust methods of communication far ahead of our ability to grasp the implications of these advances.

These trends present both significant challenges and opportunities for traditional memory institutions as they work towards ensuring that valuable information is safeguarded and maintained for the long term and for the benefit of future generations. It requires that they keep track of new types of records that may be of future cultural significance, and of any changes in how decisions are being documented. As part of this assessment, the Council’s expert panel will examine the evidence as it relates to emerging trends, international best practices in archiving, and strengths and weaknesses in how Canada’s memory institutions are responding to these opportunities and challenges. Once complete, this assessment will provide an in-depth and balanced report that will support Library and Archives Canada and other memory institutions as they consider how best to manage and preserve the mass quantity of communications records generated as a result of new and emerging technologies.

The Council’s assessment is running concurrently with the Royal Society of Canada’s expert panel assessment on Libraries and Archives in 21st century Canada. Though similar in subject matter, these assessments have a different focus and follow a different process. The Council’s assessment is concerned foremost with opportunities and challenges for memory institutions as they adapt to a rapidly changing digital environment. In navigating these issues, the Council will draw on a highly qualified and multidisciplinary expert panel to undertake a rigorous assessment of the evidence and of significant international trends in policy and technology now underway. The final report will provide Canadians, policy-makers, and decision-makers with the evidence and information needed to consider policy directions. In contrast, the RSC panel focuses on the status and future of libraries and archives, and will draw upon a public engagement process.

So, the government is shutting down libraries in order to save money and they’re praying (?) that the materials have been digitized and adequate care has been taken to ensure that they will not be lost in some disaster or other. Meanwhile the Council of Canadian Academies is conducting an assessment of memory institutions in the digital age. The approach seems to backwards.

On a more amusing note, Rick Mercer parodies at lease one way scientists are finding to circumvent the cost-cutting exercise in an excerpt (approximately 1 min.)  from his Jan. 29, 2014 Rick Mercer Report telecast (thanks Roz),

Mercer’s comment about sports and Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper’s preferences is a reference to Harper’s expressed desire to write a book about hockey and possibly a veiled reference to Harper’s successful move to prorogue parliament during the 2010 Winter Olympic games in Vancouver in what many observers suggested was a strategy allowing Harper to attend the games at his leisure.

Whether or not you agree with the decision to shutdown some libraries, the implementation seems to have been a remarkably sloppy affair.

Canada-US Regulatory Cooperation Council’s Nanotechnology Work Plan

Thanks for Lynn L. Bergeson for her Dec. 1, 2012 posting on the Nanotechnology Now website for the information about a Nov. 28, 2012 webinar that was held to discuss a Nanotechnology Work Plan developed by the joint Canada-US Regulatory Cooperation Council (or sometimes it’s called the US-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council),

The RCC requested that industry provide more information on the commercial distribution of nanomaterials, as well as more transparency by claiming confidentiality of only that information absolutely critical to market advantage.

To compare risk assessment and risk management practices to highlight and identify best practices, data gaps, and differences between the two jurisdictions, the RCC sought nominations of a nanomaterial substance for a case study. Four nanomaterial substances were nominated: multiwall carbon nanotubes, nanocrystalline cellulose, nano silver, and titanium dioxide. The RCC has selected multiwall carbon nanotubes for the case study. The RCC intends to hold in March 2013 a workshop in Washington, D.C., to discuss information collected to date and approaches moving forward. In spring 2013, the RCC will hold one or two conference calls or webinars to discuss information gathered between countries and the path forward. Finally, in fall 2013, the RCC expects to hold a stakeholder consultation/workshop on results to date.

Here’s some background on the RCC. First announced in February 2011, the RCC had its first ‘stakeholder’ session (attended by approximately 240)  in January 2012 in Washington, DC. where a series of initiatives, including nanotechnology, were discussed (from the US International Trade Administration RCC Stakeholder Outreach webpage),

Agriculture and Food, Session A

  • Perimeter approach to plant protection

Agriculture and Food, Session B

  • Crop protection products

Agriculture and Food, Session C

  • Meat/poultry – equivalency
  • Meat/poultry – certification requirements
  • Meat cut nomenclature

Agriculture and Food, Session D

  • Veterinary drugs
  • Zoning for foreign animal disease

Agriculture and Food, Session E

  • Financial protection to produce sellers

Agriculture and Food, Session F

  • Food safety – common approach
  • Food safety – testing

Road Transport – Motor Vehicles

  • Existing motor vehicle safety standards
  • New motor vehicle safety standards

Air Transport

  • Unmanned aircraft


  • Intelligent Transportation Systems


  • Dangerous goods means of transportation

Marine Transport

  • Safety and security framework & arrangement for the St. Lawrence Seaway & Great Lakes System
  • Marine transportation security regulations
  • Recreational boat manufacturing standards
  • Standard for lifejackets

Rail Transport

  • Locomotive Emissions
  • Rail Safety Standards


  • Emission standards for light-duty vehicles

Personal Care Products & Pharmaceuticals

  • Electronic submission gateway
  • Over-the-counter products – common monographs
  • Good manufacturing practices

Occupational Safety Issues

  • Classification & labelling of workplace hazardous chemicals


  • Nanotechnology

Led jointly by senior officials from Canada and the United States, the purpose of the various technical review sessions was to seek expert advice and technical input from the approximately 240 stakeholders in attendance.

Since the Jan. 2012 meeting, a Nanotechnology Work Plan has been developed and that’s what was recently discussed at the Nov. 28, 2012 webinar. I did find more on a Canadian government website, Canada’s Economic Action Plan Nanotechnology Work Plan webpage,

Nanotechnology Work Plan

 Canada Leads: Karen Dodds, Assistant Deputy Minister, Science and Technology Branch, Environment Canada (EC)

Hilary Geller, Assistant Deputy Minister, Healthy Environments and Consumer Safety Branch, Health Canada (HC)

U.S. Lead: Margaret Malanoski, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget

Deliverable Outcome: Share information and develop common approaches, to the extent possible, on foundational regulatory elements, including criteria for determining characteristics of concern/no concern, information gathering, approaches to risk assessment and management, etc. Develop joint initiatives to align regulatory approaches in specific areas such that consistency exists for consumers and industry in Canada and the US.

Principles: Identification of common principles for the regulation of nanomaterials to help ensure consistency for industry and consumers in both countries

3-6 months:

Canada provides initial feedback on US “Policy Principles for the US Decision-Making Concerning Regulation and Oversight of Applications of Nanotechnology and Nanomaterials”.

6-12 months:

Countries complete an initial draft of shared principles for the regulation of nanomaterials.

12-18 months:

Update of draft principles informed from on-going stakeholder and expert consultations.

18th month:

Stakeholder consultation / workshop on results to date and future ongoing engagement.

Beyond 18 months:

Countries complete final draft of shared principles for the regulation of nanomaterials.

Workplan for Industrial Nanomaterials

Priority-Setting: Identify common criteria for determining characteristics of industrial nanomaterials of concern/no-concern

1-3 months:

  1. Define and finalize workplan (1st month)
  2. Develop mechanisms for stakeholder outreach and engagement (1st month)
  3. Conference call with relevant stakeholders to share and discuss workplan and call for Industry to volunteer nanomaterials for joint CAN/US review

3-6 months:

Share available scientific evidence regarding characteristics of industrial nanomaterials including that obtained from existing international fora (e.g. OECD Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials [Canada is a lead in the OECD Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials]).

8th month:

Stakeholder workshop to discuss information collected to date and approaches moving forward.

6-12 months:

Initiate an analysis of characteristics of select nanomaterials: similarities, differences, reasons for them.

Initiate discussions on approaches to consider for common definitions and terminology.

12th month:

Second conference call with relevant stakeholders to discuss non-CBI information gathered between the Countries and to discuss path forward in terms of development of reports and analyses.

12-18 months:

Develop draft criteria for determining characteristics of industrial nanomaterials of concern/no-concern.

15th month:

Third conference call with relevant stakeholders to discuss progress and to prepare for the upcoming stakeholder consultation/workshop.

Here’s information for the leads should you feel compelled to make contact,


(Lead) Karen Dodds, Assistant Deputy Minister, Science and Technology, Environment Canada (karen.dodds@ec.gc.ca; ph. 613- 819-934-6851)

Hilary Geller, Assistant Deputy Minister, Healthy Environments and Consumer Safety Branch (hilary.geller@hc-sc.gc.ca; ph. 613-946-6701)

United States

(Lead) Margaret Malanoski, Office of Management and Budget (Margaret_A._Malanoski@omb.eop.gov)

I gather that the ‘stakeholders’ are business people, researchers, and policy analysts/makers as there doesn’t seem to be any mechanism for public consultation or education, for that matter.