SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  21 June 2012
Volume 13 Issue 6

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A Vitally Important Issue

Peter Hodson

Dear Mmes and Messrs:

I am seeking SETAC's assistance in addressing an issue that is vitally important to the disciplines of environmental toxicology and chemistry.

There is a great deal of ferment in Canada over a series of moves by the federal government to cut back government expenditures and to promote economic development. While these are laudable goals, they include some very controversial and damaging changes to environmental management in Canada that are included in an ‘omnibus’ budget bill. These measures are embedded in an act that will be reviewed by a finance committee and not by committees who specialize in environmental legislation, fisheries management, or resource protection. The provisions include:

  1. Revisions to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act that will favour economic development over environmental protection. The proposals will limit the time allowed for the assessment, the number and nature of interventions by those affected, the powers of the National Energy Board and other bodies to impose conditions on development, etc.
  2. The budget bill also include revisions to the Fisheries Act, such that the level of protection to fish and fish habitat will be reduced, and protection restricted only to those species, populations or habitats “of importance to man.”
  3. As part of overall cutbacks to departmental budgets, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has cut 400 positions, including all 55 scientists and technologists involved in environmental toxicology and chemistry. As a consequence of the cutbacks there will no longer be any analytical chemistry labs in DFO. While the cuts are a small percentage of the total departmental budget, they represent 100% of the departmental resources devoted to chemical pollution. They will impair DFO’s capacity to protect fish and fish habitat, to respond to chemical crises, and to provide advice re: environmental protection to those who are developing government policy.
  4. Cutbacks to environmental toxicology and chemistry include a complete elimination of funding for the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), a field station that has generated outstanding science underpinning policies world-wide on nutrient enrichment, acid rain, metal toxicity, and endocrine disruptors, and which is currently hosting new experiments on ecological impacts of whole-lake treatments by nano-particles.

Editor's note: Please also see the letter from SETAC North America to the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans supporting reconsideration of the decision to close the ELA, at

As a consequence of these moves, there has been a series of protests, letters and appeals for restoration of programs. The budget is coming up for debate in Parliament and will likely be the last act passed by parliament before summer recess. The initial response to protests has been encouraging as more and more scientists, managers, industry experts, and members of the general public become aware of the proposed changes and their implications.

I am the author of a letter to Prime Minister Harper protesting cuts to DFO’s environmental toxicology and chemistry program. Copies of my letter (in French and English), links to protests and other dimensions of the ELA issue, and links to relevant newspaper articles may be found at

I encourage SETAC’s members to respond by supporting the growing efforts to defeat or reverse the damaging cutbacks that I’ve described above. You can do this by:

  • Sending me an e-mail saying that you support my opposition to the cutbacks (does not have to be long)
  • Sending me a signed and scanned copy of the signature form from the letter
  • Sending e-mails or letters to the Prime Minister of Canada and his cabinet members (addresses available on the web site)
  • Sending letters to the editors of local or national newspapers
  • Speaking to the media directly
  • Circulating this information to anyone you know who should be concerned about these developments, including other scientists, students, fishing enthusiasts, environmental groups, etc.

Please accept my sincerest thanks for your support. The early signs of progress are very encouraging, and indicate the value of speaking out!

Best wishes,

Peter Hodson
School of Environmental Studies
Queen's University
Kingston, ON
613 533 6129

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