MONTREAL — Like any other mother, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq knows all about toddlers who have an unshakeable habit of putting toys in their mouths.
Those legions of curious tots were the inspiration for a new federal policy Aglukkaq announced Monday.
The regulations, which come into effect next week, will limit lead in toys as well as bottle nipples, soothers, beverage straws and the surface coating on children’s furniture.
The regulations go into effect on Dec. 8, but Health Canada says the majority of products now on the market already conform to the new norms.
In recent years, some toys in Canada had been found to have unacceptably high levels of lead — prompting recalls of thousands of products.
“The industry has been involved up to this point and are well aware that we are moving towards this change — so this is not new to them,” Aglukkaq said.
She advised parents to check the Health Canada website on a regular basis for the products that may have been recalled.
If a toy is listed on the website, parents are urged to just toss it out.
The health minister said the new standards set a lead limit of 90 milligrams per kilogram — “making them among the strictest in the world.”
Valentino Tramonti, who is with Health Canada’s consumer product safety department, says the new regulations compare with what already exists in the European Union.
He notes that the United States will have an acceptable level of 100 milligrams per kilogram as of August 2011, relatively close to the new Canadian standard.
Aglukkaq said it was important to draw attention to these changes, so that both foreign producers and local suppliers are aware of them.
“We are now importing more than we ever did before and the supply chain for many of those products can be very complex,” she said.
“So we need clear and tough regulations to guarantee that importers, manufacturers and retailers know that Canada is tough on lead.”
Aglukkaq says the regulations will give Health Canada the authority to prevent the import or sale of a long list of products if they have lead levels in excess of the new limits.
The government will also be able to pull any of the products off the market.
Martin Laliberte, the head of the Canadian Association of Poison Control Centres, says lead exposure has several detrimental effects on the brain of young children.
“We’re talking about the context of chronic exposure,” said Laliberte, who was invited to Monday’s news conference.
“The lead building up over years and years does have negative effects on the child’s intellectual performance.”
Laliberte admits it’s difficult to gather statistics coming from poison control centres.
“But let me reassure you: children dying actually of very serious lead poisoning is something that has become very rare over the years.”
Aglukkaq is also calling for swift approval of Bill C-36, the proposed Canada Consumer Safety Act, which she said would give the government powers to monitor unsafe products similar to those in other countries.