What is CEPA 1999?

Bill C-32, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999)
came into effect on March 31, 2000, as “an Act respecting pollution
prevention and the protection of the environment and human health in order
to contribute to sustainable development.” It replaced Bill C-74, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which had been in effect since June 30, 1988 .
The proposed CEPA 1999 was studied extensively and was subject to at
least 250 amendments before being proclaimed, as well as some amendments
since proclamation. The new act was primarily a response to public concerns about environmental contaminants and their management “from cradle to
grave,” i.e., from development and manufacture / importation through to transportation, distribution, use, storage, and waste disposal.

CEPA 1999 features several improvements over the 1988 CEPA:

  • makes pollution prevention the foundation of its environmental
    protection effort; (this represents a major shift toward prevention and
    the management of environmental and human health risks before they occur);
  • adds requirements for research on environmental quality and health impacts;
  • introduces various important principles and concepts, e.g., the precautionary principle
  • increases opportunities for citizen participation;
  • requires the implementation of a public registry of CEPA-related information;
  • allows for more effective partnerships with Aboriginal governments,
    other governments and jurisdictions;
  • prescribes and enables multiple risk assessment processes;
  • provides a wide range of tools for managing toxic substances, other pollution and waste;
  • allows for the most harmful substances to be phased out, or not
    released in any measurable quantity;
  • includes new provisions to regulate vehicle, engine and equipment emissions;
  • enables implementation of various international health and
    environmental agreements;
  • strengthens enforcement of the Act and its regulations.


CEPA, 1999 is the primary component of a group of inter-related laws,
policies and institutions which, taken together, give all Canadians a shared responsibility in protecting the Canadian environment.

[Other related acts and institutions : http://www.ec.gc.ca/CEPARegistry/the_act/guide04/s2.cfm ]

The key purpose of the Act is the prevention and management of risks
posed by toxic and other harmful substances.
In addition, it manages the
impacts on health and the environment
of the products of biotechnology,
marine pollution, disposal at sea, fuels, emissions from vehicles, engines
a nd equipment, hazardous wastes, environmental emergencies and other
sources of pollution.

Administrators of the Act are: the Minister of the Environment (administers
all of CEPA);

the Minister of Health and the Minister of the Environment (jointly
administer the tasks associated with toxic substances).


( http://www.ec.gc.ca/CEPARegistry/the_act/guide04/s3.cfm )

These guiding principles are set out in the preamble and incorporated
into the Act: sustainable development, pollution prevention, virtual
elimination of releases of certain substances, an ecosystem approach, the precautionary principle, intergovernmental cooperation, science-based
national standards, the principle of “polluter pays,” and science-based


( http://www.ec.gc.ca/CEPARegistry/the_act/guide04/s4.cfm )

This process consists of: 1) research and monitoring; 2) risk assessment;
3) risk management; and 4) compliance promotion and enforcement.

At each stage of the process, there are opportunities for cooperation with
other governments, public participation and reporting on progress.

[See also the webpage of the National Office of Pollution Prevention
(NOPP) at:

http://www.ec.gc.ca/nopp/en/index.cfm ].


( http://www.ec.gc.ca/CEPARegistry/the_act/guide04/s5.cfm )

Existing substances are categorized within the Domestic Substances List
This list is comprised of two groups of substances: those that have not
yet been assessed for their risks to human health or the environment (approximately 23,000, based on the original list developed between
January 1, 1984 and December 31, 1986 ), and those that have been
assessed as new substances and subsequently added to the DSL
(approximately 1,954).

The 23,500 un-assessed substances on the DSL represent the Canadian dimensions of the global legacy of substances that have not yet been
assessed to determine their potential impact on the environment and human health.


The responsibility for assessing the risks of new chemicals falls on
Environment Canada and Health Canada . Risk assessments consider
impacts on human and non-human organisms, as well as the environment. Impacts occur as a result of the properties of the substance as well as the
level of exposure or potential exposure. The conclusion of the assessment is based on both the precautionary principle and the weight of evidence.

Definition of “Toxic” Under CEPA 1999. Section 64 of CEPA 1999 states:
“A substance is toxic if it is entering or may enter the environment in a
quantity or concentration, or under conditions that:

  • have or may have an immediate or long-term harmful effect on the environment or its biological diversity;
  • constitute or may constitute a danger to the environment on which life depends;
  • constitute or may constitute a danger in Canada to human life or

Triggers for Risk Assessment . Having a substance placed on the “Priority Substances List” (PSL) is the primary method used to assess the risk of a substance being toxic under the Act.

Substances are placed on the PSL in 3 ways:

  • when a screening assessment has indicated that a more
    comprehensive assessment is needed;
  • following a Review of another jurisdiction’s decision;
  • when any person asks the Minister to add a substance to the PSL.

Substances must be assessed within five years of being placed on the PSL.

Other assessments may be triggered by information provided by other
programs, industry and scientific research. Any assessment that satisfies
the Ministers that a substance is toxic can result in a substance being
placed on the List of Toxic Substances. Usually, these assessments are based on collaborative efforts nationally or internationally.

Categorization and Screening Level Assessments . Under CEPA 1999, all 23,500 substances on the Domestic Substance List that have not been
assessed, together with all the living substances that have been added to the DSL, must be “categorized” by September 13, 2006 . Subsequent to this considerable exercise, the Screening Level Risk Assessments on those substances will begin in October 2006. Canada is the only country in the
world with a legislative requirement to categorize and do further risk
assessment on all existing substances.

Categorization is basically an initial priority-setting mechanism. It identifies
those substances on the DSL that meet these criteria: 1) they are “inherently toxic” (causing toxic effects) to humans or non-human organisms; 2) they are persistent (take a long time to break down); and/or, 3) they bio-accumulate (collect in living organisms and end up in the food chain.)

While some substances that are determined to be toxic will be prohibited,
others will be controlled through better management of their use. However,
some toxic substances are persistent, bio-accumulative and present
because of human activity, and for these substances, the Minister is
obliged to add them to the Virtual Elimination List. To date, there is only one substance on that list.

Outcomes of Risk Assessment. Once the Ministers have conducted either a
risk assessment under the Priority Substance List, a screening level risk assessment, or a review of a decision by another jurisdiction, they must
propose one of these three measures:

  • add the substance to the PSL for further review;
  • recommend to federal Cabinet that the substance be added to the
    List of Toxic Substances (Schedule 1) and if applicable, to the Virtual Elimination List;
  • recommend no further action (typically if the substance is found not



Existing substances. Risk management measures for existing substances include: regulations, pollution prevention plans, environmental emergency
plans, guidelines, codes of practice and administrative agreements.

Toxics Management Process . Environment Canada , with the assistance
of the National Advisory Committee of CEPA 1999, and stakeholder and public consultations, develops coordinated approaches to the management of toxic substances. This is accomplished through such mechanisms as the
development of a risk management strategy, risk management objectives
and management measures. The addition of a substance to this list does
not require any risk management measures to be implemented. It simply
allows the Minister to
require the preparation of pollution prevention plans or environmental
emergency plans or for the Governor in Council (Cabinet) to use the act to
reduce the risks associated with the substance.

[See also the website of the New Substances Evaluation Program:http://www.ec.gc.ca/substances/ese/eng/esehome.cfm ].


( http://www.ec.gc.ca/CEPARegistry/the_act/guide04/s6.cfm )

The new substances provisions of CEPA 1999 help identify and manage environmental and human health risks before they occur. Substances that
are not on the current Domestic Substance List are considered to be new substances in Canada . The intent of CEPA 1999 is that no new substance
is introduced into the Canadian marketplace before it is assessed to determine whether it is toxic or capable of becoming toxic to the environment or human health.

Two entry points for new substances exist: the New Substances Notification Regulations, and the Non-Domestic Substances List. The former applies a rigorous assessment process, while the latter allows for quicker access to
the Canadian market through a less onerous collection of information.


New substances cannot be manufactured or imported until the Minister has been notified, has received relevant information for assessment purposes and the new substance assessment has been completed by Environment
Canada and Health Canada .

Outcomes of Risk Assessment.

  • If the substance is not suspected to be toxic, the notifier may import
    or manufacture the substance after the assessment period has expired;
  • Where the substance is suspected of being toxic, or becoming toxic, government may take risk management measures.
  • If the substance could become toxic (by means of a significant new
    activity or use of the substance), it can be subject to a re-notification process.


The risks may be managed through measures which impose conditions or prohibitions on the import or manufacture of new substances that are toxic or suspected of being or capable of becoming toxic.

[ See the webpage of the New Substances Program at:

http://www.ec.gc.ca/substances/nsb/eng/index_e.htm ]


( http://www.ec.gc.ca/CEPARegistry/the_act/guide04/s7.cfm )

CEPA 1999 establishes a federal benchmark for notification and assessment
of new animate products of biotechnology (living organisms).

There are currently 35 living organisms listed on the Domestic Substances


( http://www.ec.gc.ca/CEPARegistry/the_act/guide04/s8.cfm )

About 80% of ocean pollution originates from land-based activities. The CEPA 1999 provisions are intended to complement existing regulatory measures and supplement the authorities of other federal, provincial, territorial and aboriginal government laws.

Under CEPA 1999, disposal at sea refers to the disposal of certain substances
at sea from ships, aircraft, platforms or other structures. CEPA 1999
prohibits the disposal of wastes and other matter at sea within Canadian boundaries, and by Canadian ships in international waters and in waters under foreign jurisdiction, unless a permit has been issued by the Minister.

[See also the Disposal at Sea website at : http://www.ec.gc.ca/seadisposal/main/index_e.htm ].


( http://www.ec.gc.ca/CEPARegistry/the_act/guide04/s9.cfm )

Transportation is the largest source of air pollution in Canada . Internal
combustion engines in off-road vehicles and equipment also cause significant
air pollution. CEPA 1999 provides the authority to control the quality of fuels
as well as vehicle and engine emissions. It also provides for a “national
emissions mark”, which signifies that vehicles, engines and equipment meet emission standards. [See also the website of the Environmental Technology Centre at:

http://www.etc-cte.ec.gc.ca/etchome_e.html ].


( http://www.ec.gc.ca/CEPARegistry/the_act/guide04/s9.cfm )

Hazardous waste includes a range of industrial residues such as solvents,
acids and bases, byproducts of oil refining and the manufacture of chemicals,
and metal processing. Under CEPA 1999, trans-boundary movements cannot
take place unless the Minister is notified and a permit is issued. [See also the website for the Transboundary Movement Branch at:


CEPA 1999 also provides various other authorities, e.g., to define hazardous waste and recyclable material (facilitating a harmonization of federal /
provincial / territorial approaches to their management); to develop sound management criteria for refusing to issue permits; to require exporters to implement reduction plans for exports of waste destined for final disposal (municipal solid wastes); to control inter-provincial movements of hazardous wastes and hazardous recyclable material. )


Two other sources of pollution and wastes are international air and water
pollution and substances defined as nutrients under CEPA.


CEPA 1999 addresses Canadian sources that may pollute the air or water in another country, or situations where that pollution violates an international agreement binding on Canada .


CEPA 1999 defines nutrients as substances that promote the growth of
aquatic vegetation. It provides the authority to regulate nutrients that degrade
or have a negative impact on an aquatic ecosystem.


( http://www.ec.gc.ca/CEPARegistry/the_act/guide04/s12.cfm )

There are an estimated 20,000 environmental emergencies annually in
Canada . An environmental emergency is defined by CEPA 1999 as: “an uncontrolled, unplanned or accidental release of a substance (listed under
CEPA 1999, Part 8) into the environment, or the reasonable likelihood of
such a release that may
affect the environment or human health.”

CEPA 1999 provides a “safety net” for the comprehensive management of environmental emergencies, that is, it will fill regulatory gaps if needed, to
protect the environment and human health. It authorizes the government to
make regulations and take non-regulatory measures to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from environmental emergencies.

[ See also the website of the Environmental Emergencies Program at:

http://www.ec.gc.ca/ee-ue/whats_new/whats_new_e.asp ]


( http://www.ec.gc.ca/CEPARegistry/the_act/guide04/s13.cfm )

CEPA 1999 applies to activities on federal and aboriginal lands. Because,
under Canada ’s constitution, provincial environmental laws do not generally
apply to federal lands, including aboriginal lands, then federal and aboriginal
lands are not subject to the usual provincial regulations covering environmental matters. Under CEPA 1999, this gap can be addressed by Environment


CEPA 1999 provides the authority to carry out investigations and inspections
to ensure that regulations of the Act are followed. This section of the Act addresses the principles of enforcement, enforcement officers, CEPA analysts, enforcement tools and penalties. It introduces a number of new enforcement
tools, such as Environmental Protection Compliance Orders (EPCOs). [ See
also the website
for the Office of Enforcement, Environmental Protection Branch, at
: http://atlenv.ns.ec.gc.ca/enforcement/index.html ]


Decision-making under CEPA 1999 is based on scientific evidence. Much of that evidence comes from research conducted under the Minister of the Environment. The Act requires that the Minister conduct research on the
effects of pollution on environmental quality, how pollution is dispersed
through eco-systems, pollution prevention and the control of pollution.
Specifically, the Act requires that the Ministers of Health and Environment conduct research on the effects of hormone disrupting chemicals.

In addition, the Act requires that the government maintain a system for
monitoring environmental quality in Canada , maintain environmental quality
data and monitor ocean disposal sites. [See also the Environmental
Technology Centre website at:

http://www.etc-cte.ec.gc.ca/etchome_e.html; the Environmental Technology Advancement Directorate athttp://www.ec.gc.ca/etad/default.asp?lang=En&n=D5588C8C-11, and the National Pollutant Release Inventory site at:http://www.ec.gc.ca/pdb/npri/npri_home_e.cfm ].


This authority contributes to effective monitoring, research, state of the environment reporting, creating inventories, developing objectives, guidelines, codes of practice and regulations. It also allows the Minister to assess a substance for toxicity or toxicity potential. Some of the information
vehicles are: the requirement in Part 3 of the Act to develop environmental
quality objectives, the requirement in Part 4 to develop guidance material on pollution prevention planning and the authority to develop and publish a model pollution prevention
plan and a national clearinghouse for information on pollution prevention,
reports on the state of the environment, annual reports to Parliament, the
CEPA Environmental Registry, and the National Pollutant Release Inventory.
[See also the Environmental Monitoring and Reporting website at
: http://www.ec.gc.ca/envmon_e.htmland the National Pollutant Release
Inventory site at
: http://www.ec.gc.ca/pdb/npri/npri_home_e.cfm ].


CEPA 1999 provides for the input and full consideration of public values and concerns at all stages of the decision-making process. Industry and
individuals are continually invited to participate in a wide variety of public consultations through notices published in the Canada Gazette as well as the CEPA Environmental Registry. The Public Participation section of the CEPA Environmental Registry highlights all consultation opportunities and provides
the necessary background information for informed decision-making.

All Canadian employees have whistleblower protection under CEPA 1999, and
can request that the Minister conduct an investigation of an alleged offence.


These requirements refer to the National Advisory Committee, Administrative
and Equivalency Agreements, Boards of Review and Review of the Act.

Legislative Summaries (LS 285E) Bill C-32: The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1998. Background. p. 1.


CEPA Environmental Registry – The Act

A Guide to Understanding the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999

Environment Canada and Health Canada . December 2004. Scoping the Issues: Preparation for the Parliamentary Review of the CANADIAN ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION ACT, 1999.

Bill C-32:  The Canadian Environmental
Protection Act, 1999
(Legislative history, background and analysis of the bill)

Canadian Environmental Law Association. Within REACH: An Agenda for Improving the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999

Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. Backgrounder: Legislative Review of CEPA 1999.



http://www.ec.gc.ca/CEPARegistry/the_act/ guide04/toc.cfm

CR_ participation/Default.cfm


http://www.parl.gc.ca/common/Bills_ls.asp? lang=E&Parl=36&Ses=1&ls=C32&source=









  Home | Contact Us