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Twenty years ago, workers won the right to know what hazardous chemicals they could be exposed to in the workplace, with the adoption of the federal Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS). But consumers still don’t have that right — even though household products may contain the same toxic ingredients used in the workplace.

Household paint strippers, for example, often contain methylene chloride, which is listed as a possible human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Many household cleaners contain 2-butoxyethanol, a substance declared toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Home workshop lubricants may contain perchloroethylene, a probable human carcinogen. In the workplace, all those ingredients are listed and their hazards identified. But not in consumer products. We believe that has to change.

We believe that any hazardous ingredients, such as carcinogens or reproductive toxins, should be identified, so that consumers can make informed choices. That’s the position we’ve pushed for in a series of consultation meetings with Health Canada where we represented the public interest.

We initiated a consensus statement on ingredient and hazard labelling that was signed by various groups, including the Canadian Environmental Law Association, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and Breast Cancer Action Montreal. The Canadian Cancer Society submitted a supporting letter, endorsing the principle of hazard labelling on products.

Canadians have shown that they want government to recognize their right to know. A poll commissioned by Strategic Communications in April 2007 showed that 93 per cent of respondents wanted labelling to identify any toxic chemicals in their household products.

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