Tag Archives: House of Commons Standing Committe on Health

Canada’s Bill C-494, Nanotechnology Safety in Canada: an update

Peter Julian, MP Burnaby-New Westminster, has kindly sent an update about Bill C-494’s progress (the bill on nanotechnology safety that he introduced in Canada’s House of Commons in March 2010).

One comment, I’m not entirely certain how some of conclusions in this update were reached  but my concerns are nits rather than picks and more about those after you read Peter Julian’s update,

Progress continues on Bill C-494, An Act to Amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act 1999 (nanotechnology), with growing support towards nanotechnology’s safe introduction in Canada, including from the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA). Exciting developments in Europe towards consumer product labeling and increased precaution for nanomaterials, such as the Swiss recommendation for a precautionary 1-500nm approach to risk assessment, coupled with improved workplace safety measures in the United States, are key drivers for change.

Over 1,000 nano-enabled products have now been released into the global marketplace, from toothpaste to socks, computers to cars, aeronautics to cement, and health care.

Although most nanotechnology applications are believed to be safe, the number of nano-enabled products or nanomaterials in use in Canada is not known, as there still is no public inventory to either monitor nanotechnology or assure its safety for Canadians. Testimonies and evidence presented to the House of Commons Health Committee raise additional concern and alarm towards the government’s slow response to emerging risk science and precautionary regulatory actions now implemented in other countries.

The Government of Canada now acknowledges regulatory “limitations” towards nanomaterials safety, and promises “possible amendments” to government policies that may be placing nanotechnology and Canadians at increased risk. Canada’s expected economic and societal benefit from this “platform” technology, across the 21st century, includes the automotive, construction, defence, energy, foods, health, and textile sectors. The federal government also acknowledged the importance of having a public inventory as advocated in bill C-494.

Canada must keep pace with international measures towards nanotechnology safety.

I will continue to work towards safe nanotechnology in Canada, through Bill C-494 and by encouraging the Harper government to fix both policy and regulatory “limitations”.

As for the nits, that “Over 1,000 nano-enabled products … ” comment is a stab in the dark. No one really knows how many nano-enabled products are out there and this number sounds like it’s based on a database maintained by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN). The PEN database (the best known and most respected) is voluntary and not vetted, in other words, anybody can claim and register a nano-enabled product.

ETA Feb.2.11: I received an email from Peter’s office citing the source of the statistic. From the email,

“In collaboration with Environment Canada, in February 2009 Industry Canada collected data on the number of consumer products on the Canadian market that incorporated nanotechnology-based components or technologies. These were estimated at over 1600 products, with 68% being imported into Canada from more than 11 different countries.”

Thank you, I’d forgotten about this source. This data is from an OECD report than I commented on in an April 12, 2010 posting. Here are the comments I made at the time,

Over 1600 ‘nano’ products are being imported into Canada? They know this because, from the report, p. 31,

In collaboration with Environment Canada, in February 2009 Industry Canada collected data on the number of consumer products on the Canadian market that incorporated nanotechnology-based components or technologies.

This data collection seems a bit odd given that Environment Canada’s definition of nanomaterials that need to be reported specifically excludes nano titanium dioxide which is a very popular nano material. (I have more about definitions in section following in this post.) Plus, I wonder where else this information about the number of products with nanomaterials is available and how many Canadians know about it?

I think my comments about the data still stand and this business about where we get data and how we get and whether or not it’s valid points to the difficulties anybody, no matter how hard they try,  has discussing nanotechnology-enabled products in Canada and elsewhere.

The June 2010 hearing of the House of Commons Health Committee (mentioned in the paragraph after the ‘1000 products’) which ” … raise[d] additional concern and alarm towards the government’s slow response to emerging risk science and precautionary regulatory actions now implemented in other countries,” I’d like to know more about that concern and the hearing. I did send some email interview questions last summer to the hearing’s chair, Joyce Murray, MP Vancouver Quadra and, later, to one of the members, Cathy McLeod, MP Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, and have yet to hear back. After reading the June 10, 2010 evidence from the hearing, I did post my impressions and thoughts  on June 23, 2010.

I’m glad to hear that Peter Julian is persisting in his efforts and hope that this bill might open up a larger discussion (I know I’m being idealistic) on emerging technologies and sciences and how Canadians will be grappling with the implications as a society. In short,  I’d like to see some imagination, discussion, and engagement rather than a single-minded rush to legislation and hope that Julian’s bill will act as a catalyst to that end.

Thoughts about scientists speaking to Members of Parliament in Canada and elsewhere

It’s hard to tell from reading the Evidence document what precisely the hearing before Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Health was intended to address. The title for the hearing is general, Potential Risks and Benefits of Nanotechnology and it’s impossible to gauge how well informed the committee members in attendance are.

None of the advisors (for a list see yesterday’s posting) speaking to the committee gave a description or explained nanotechnology or used stories/examples to illustrate their points. Not offering an explanation was unusual. There seems to have been an assumption that all the committee members knew about it. If the committee members do understand nanotechnology, at least somewhat, they belong to a very small category of outsiders (not directly involved in nano research or nano product development or nano business effort or nano policy). My suspicion is that Canadian MPs don’t have easy access to much science information so this scenario is unlikely.

All this reminded me of Preston Manning’s (founder of the Reform Party and the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance Party [now absorbed by the Conservative Party] in Canada and opposition science critic) comments about scientists needing to learn how to communicate better with politicians (Nov. 2, 2009 posting on this blog).

I suspect part of the difficulty is that speakers were given five minutes and they all had overriding issues they wanted to cover. The document has numerous instances where the Chair warns the speaker that their allotted speaking time is coming to an end and they will have to conclude their comments.

As for not offering examples or stories about the use of nanomaterials in nanotechnology-enabled products to illustrate their points, that’s a pretty simple and effective technique. Based on my reading of the document for the hearing, I better appreciate Preston Manning’s suggestion that Canadian scientists get better training to communicate with MPs.

The Black Hole, Devils of Details: Getting Scientists to Understand How Policy Making Works, June 16, 2010 is a posting where blogger Dave (a Canadian scientist currently doing postdoctoral work at Cambridge University, UK) details his experience at a recent meeting ,

Yesterday I attended a panel discussion at Cambridge run by a group called the Centre for Science and Policy. It is part of a series of events designed to engage and unite those at the University who have an interest in the role of scientific information in government policy. This particular session was entitled Working on the inside and highlighted the roles of Cambridge academics that have pursued these sorts of roles in Government.

The panelists all had some role in bringing a scientific perspective to the parliamentarians at Whitehall. These roles, however, were distinct and spanned multiple career stages, areas of focus, and included different sets of responsibilities.

These Cambridge academics weren’t being parachuted into a hearing for a five minute presentation with questions afterwards; they were folded into various agencies for the purpose of offering scientific advice to UK MPs.

Coincidentally I found this June 9, 2010 article (Dave Willets plugs science lessons for MPs) by Mark Henderson for The Times on the Canadian Science Policy website this morning. This is another approach they’re taking in the UK that could prove valuable here too,

One of *Afriyie’s best moves in opposition was to commit the Tories to giving new MPs some rudimentary training in science as part of their parliamentary induction. The Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology agreed to do this training, so long as it was open to MPs of other parties as well. And the first such training day will take place next Tuesday [June 15, 2010].

* Prior to the 2010 UK elections, Adam Afrifie was Tory opposition Science spokesperson. Now the Tories are part of a coalition government, Dave Willets is the Minister in charge of science.

If anyone has comments that point to confirming or debunking my suspicions regarding Canadian MPs and their access to science information, please do let me know.

Nanomaterials, toxicity, and Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Health

Thanks to a reader who provided me with a link, I found a document (titled Evidence) about a ‘nanomaterials’ hearing held by Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Health on June 10, 2010 and chaired by Joyce Murray, Member of Parliament, Vancouver Quadra. It makes for interesting reading and you can find it here.

The official title for the hearing was Potential Risks and Benefits of Nanotechnology, which I found out after much digging around. The purpose for the *hearing*  seemed to be the education of the committee members about nanotechnology both generally (what is it? is there anything good about it?) and about its possible toxicology.

For information about the committee and the meeting, go here to find the minutes, the evidence (direct link provided in 1st para.), and your choice of webcasts (English version, French version, and floor version). One comment before you go, keep scrolling down past the sidebar and the giant white box to find the list of meetings along with appropriate links and if you choose to listen to the webcast, wait at least 1 minute for the audio to start. There’s a list of the committee members here, again scroll down past the giant white box to find the information.

I am going to make a few comments about this hearing. I will have to confine myself to a few points as the committee covered quite a bit of ground in the proceedings as they grappled with understanding something about nanotechnology, health and safety issues, benefits, and regulatory frameworks, amongst other issues.

It was unexpected to find that Mihail Roco, a well known figure in the US nanotechnology field, was speaking via videoconference (from the document),

Dr. Mihail Roco (Senior Advisor for Nanotechnology, National Nanotechnology Initiative, National Science Foundation, As an Individual) (p. 1 in print version, p. 3 in PDF)

He did have this to say,

First of all, I would like to present an overview of different themes in the United States, and thereafter make some recommendations, some ideas for the future. [emphasis mine] (p. 5 in print version, p. 7 in PDF)

I have to say my eyebrows raised at Roco’s “… make some recommendations …” comment. While appreciative of his experience and perspective, I’ve sometimes found that speakers from the US tend to give recommendations that are better geared to their own situation and less so to the Canadian one. Thankfully,  he offered unexceptional advice that I heartily agree with,

I would like to say, in conclusion, that it’s important to have an anticipatory, participatory, and adaptive governance approach to nanotechnology in order to capture the new developments and also to prepare people, tools, and organizations for the future. (p. 6 in print version, p. 8 in PDF)

The Canadian guests are not as well known to me save for Dr. Nils Petersen who heads up Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology. Here is a list of the Canadian guest speakers,

Mr. (sometimes referred to as Dr. in the document) Claude Ostiguy (Director, Research and Expertise Support Department, Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail) (p. 1 in print version, p. 3 in PDF)

Dr. Nils Petersen (Director General, National Research Council Canada, National Institute for Nanotechnology) (p. 2 in print version, p. 4 in PDF)

Dr. Claude Emond (Toxicologist, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Université de Montréal) (p. 3 in print version, p. 5 in PDF)

Ms. Françoise Maniet (Lecturer and Research Agent, Centre de recherche interdisciplinaire sur la biologie, la santé, la société et l’environnement (CINBIOSE) et Groupe de recherche en droit international et comparé de la consommation (GREDICC), Université du Québec à Montréal) (p. 4 in print version, p. 6 in PDF)

Emond spoke to the need for a national nanotechnology development strategy. He also mentioned communication although I’m not sure he and would agree much beyond the point that some communication programmes are necessary,

The different meetings I attend point out the necessity to integrate the social communication transparency education aspect in nanotechnology development, so many structures already exist around the words. As I said before with OECD, NNI, we also have ISO 229. Now we have a network called NE3LS in Quebec, and we also have this international team we created a few years ago, which I spoke about earlier [he leads an international team in nano safety with members from France, Japan, US, Germany, and Canada].

A Canadian strategy initiative in nanotechnology can be inspired by a group above. In closing the discussion, I want to say there is an urgent need to coordinate the national development of nanotechnology and more particularly in parallel with the nanosafety issue, including research, characterization exposure, toxicology, and assessment. I would like to conclude by saying that Canada has to assume leadership in nanosafety and contribute to this international community rather than wait and see.

The NE3LS in Québec is new to me and I wonder if  they liaise with the team in Alberta last mentioned here in connection with Alberta’s Nanotechnology Asset Map.

In response to a question from the committee member, Mrs. Cathy McLeod, Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo,

First, because I am someone who is somewhat new to the understanding of this issue, could we take an example of either a cosmetic or a food or something that’s commonplace and follow it through from development into the product so I could understand the pathway of a nanoparticle in a cosmetic product or food? (p. 6 in print version, p. 8 in PDF)

The example Dr. Ostiguy used for his response was titanium dioxide nanoparticles in sunscreens and his focus was occupational safety, i.e., what happens to people working to produce these sunscreens.  The surprising moment came when I saw Dr. Petersen’s response as he added,

In the case of cosmetics, they take that nanoparticle and put it into the cream formulation at a factory site. Then it normally comes out to the consumer encapsulated or protected in one way or another. [emphasis mine]

In general, in those kinds of manufacturing environments the risks are at the start of the process, when you are making the particles and incorporating them into a material, and possibly at the end of the product’s life, when you’re disposing of it. It might then be released in ways that you might not have anticipated—for example, through the wearing down or opening of the cassette of toner or whatever.

I think those are the two areas. Most consumers would see a product in which nanoparticles are encapsulated or incorporated— maybe inside a cellphone, or something like that—and often not be exposed in that way. (p. 7 in print version, p. 9 in PDF)

As I understand Petersen’s comments, he believes that the nanoparticles in sunscreens (and other cosmetics) do not make direct contact as they are somehow incorporated into a shell or capsule. He then makes a comparison to cell phones to prove his point. This is incorrect. Yes, any nanomaterials in a cell phone are bound to the product (cell phones are not rubbed onto the skin) but the nanoparticles in sunscreens make direct contact and *penetrate the skin. *ETA June 28, 2010: It has not been unequivocally proved that nanoparticles penetrate healthy adult skin. I apologize for the error. ** ETA July 19, 2010: As per the July 18, 2010 posting on Andrew Maynard’s 2020 Science blog, the evidence so far suggests that there is no skin penetration by nanoparticles in sunscreens.

I have posted extensively about nanoparticles and sunscreens and will try later to lay in some links either to my posts or to more informed parties as to safety issues regarding consumers.

There was an interesting development towards the end of the meeting with Carolyn Bennett, St. Paul’s,

Firstly, I wanted to apologize for being late. I think some of you know it was the tenth anniversary of CIHR [Canadian Institutes of Health Research] this morning, the breakfast, and some of us who were there at the birth were supposed to be there at the birthday party. So my apologies.

What happened on the way in to the breakfast was that I ran into Liz Dowdeswell, from the Council of Canadian Academies, and it seems that they have just done a review of nanotechnology in terms of pros and cons. [emphasis mine]So I would first ask the clerk and the analyst to circulate that report to the committee, because I think it might be very helpful to us, and then I think it would be interesting to know if the witnesses had seen it and whether they had further comments on whether you felt it was taking Canada in the right direction.

The report mentioned by Bennett was released in July 8, 2008 (news release). You can find the full report here and the abridged version here.

I wouldn’t describe this report as having just been “done” but I think that as a primer it stands up well. (You can read my 2008 comments here.)

I do find it sad that neither this committee nor Peter Julian the Member of Parliament who earlier this year tabled the first bill concerned with nanotechnology were aware of the report’s existence. It adds weight to an issue (nobody in Ottawa seems to be aware of their work) for the Council of Canadian Academies mentioned on this blog here (where you will find links to a more informed discussion by Rob Annan at Don’t leave Canada behind and the folks at The Black Hole).

I’m glad to see there’s some interest in nanotechnology in Ottawa and I hope they continue to dig for more information.

I have sent Joyce Murray a set of questions which I hope she’ll answer about the committee’s interest in nanotechnology and about the science resources and advice available to the Members of Parliament.

ETA June 30, 2010: I received this correction from Mr. Julian’s office today:

I would like to bring to your attention incorrect information provided in the Frogheart posting on June 23, Nanomaterials, Toxicity, and Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. Of particular concern are the closing comments:

“I do find it sad that neither this committee nor Peter Julian the Member of Parliament who earlier this year tabled the first bill concerned with nanotechnology were aware of the report’s existence. It adds weight to an issue (nobody in Ottawa seems to be aware of their work) for the Council of Canadian Academies mentioned on this blog here (where you will find links to a more informed discussion by Rob Annan at Don’t leave Canada behind and the folks at The Black Hole). I’m glad to see there’s some interest in nanotechnology in Ottawa and I hope they continue to dig for more information.”

Mr. Julian is indeed aware of the Council of Canadian Academies excellent report on nanotechnology in 2008. The document is one of many that formed the basis of Mr. Julian’s Bill C-494 which was tabled in Parliament on March 10. It is incorrect to assume that Mr. Julian was not aware of the report’s existence.

There is indeed interest in nanotechnology in Ottawa. Canadians should expect sustained interest when the House of Commons reconvenes in September with a focus on better ensuring that nanotechnology’s benefits are safely produced in the marketplace.

I apologize for the error and I shouldn’t have made the assumption. I am puzzled that the Council of Canadian Academies report was not mentioned in the interview Mr. Julian very kindly gave me and where I explicitly requested some recommendations for Canadians who want to read up about nanotechnology. Mr. Julian’s reply (part 2 of the interview) did not include a reference to the Council’s nanotechnology report, which I consider more readable than some of the suggestions offered.

*’haring’ changed to ‘hearing’ on July 26, 2016.