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Council of Canadians raises concerns about fracking chemicals and Bill C-45’s elimination of Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission

The Council of Canadians is raising concerns about the impacts that abolishing the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission (HMIRC) would have on the disclosure of fracking chemicals. Bill C-45, the second omnibus budget bill, abolishes the HMIRC and transfers responsibility to the Minister of Health.

The HMIRC is an independent agency that safeguards worker safety by assessing compliance with the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), and plays a key role in educating workers on health and safety risks, safe handling, proper storage, transportation and disposal of hazardous materials. The arms-length agency also reviews requests from companies to keep chemical names and quantities as trade secrets. There are a number of active claims from fracking companies currently awaiting decision by the HMIRC.

“The Harper government is gambling with worker and public safety,” says Maude Barlow, National Chairperson for the Council of Canadians. “With the cuts to Health Canada, how will the Minister of Health ensure that the responsibilities of the HMIRC are adequately carried out?”

In April, 840 Health Canada employees were told their positions would be cut, and the federal government announced plans for Health Canada’s budget to be slashed by $416.5 million by 2014-2015, with cuts of $200.6 million annually after that.

“There are too many unanswered questions surrounding how this could affect the disclosure of fracking chemicals and other hazardous materials,” says Emma Lui, Water Campaigner for the Council of Canadians. “How will this affect worker safety? Will eliminating the Commission speed up the process of exempting companies from disclosing hazardous chemicals? We need clarification from the Harper government on what eliminating the HMIRC means before this budget bill is rammed through.”

In 2011-2012, out of the 319 decisions made by the HMIRC, 288 claims for trade-secret exemptions were found to be non-compliant with the WHMIS. In the previous year, 306 out of the 365 claims failed to meet the WHMIS requirements.