Lab Tests Find 60 Toxic Chemicals in Canadians' Blood
OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, November 15, 2005 (ENS) - Only 11 Canadians had their blood tested for toxic chemicals in a new study by an environmental nonprofit organization, but they came from across the country and every person's blood tested positive for a wide range of chemicals. Stain repellants, flame retardants, mercury and lead, DDT, and PCBs are among the 60 contaminants detected by blood tests.
The report, released Thursday by Environmental Defence, is the first in Canada to test for a broad range of chemicals in average Canadians from across the country. The testing demonstrates that toxic chemicals contaminate Canadians no matter where they live in the country, how old they are or what they do for a living, concludes the report, "Toxic Nation: A Report on Pollution in Canadians."
“If you can walk, talk and breathe, you’re contaminated,” said Dr. Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence. “Canadians are exposed everyday and in incredibly insidious ways to harmful toxic chemicals. We are guinea pigs in a massive, uncontrolled, chemical experiment, the disastrous outcome of which is measured in disease and death.”
Many of the chemicals discovered in the bodies of Canadians are associated with cancer, hormone disruption, reproductive disorders, respiratory illnesses and harming the development of children, Smith said.
On average, 44 chemicals were found in each volunteer.
“I think of myself as a healthy person, so of course I found my test results to be unsettling," said Nycole Turmel, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, based in Ottawa. The tests found 51 chemicals in Turmel's blood.
"No one wants to learn that they have heavy metals, PCBs or other toxic chemicals in their blood,” said Turmel. “But more importantly, my tests results have underlined for me the importance of strengthening CEPA." The Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) is Canada’s national pollution law.
Qualified laboratories in Quebec and Texas tested the volunteers for 88 different chemicals and found a total of 60 of the 88 chemicals tested (68 percent).
Of the chemicals detected, 53 can cause reproductive disorders and harm the development of children, 41 are suspected cancer-causing chemicals, 27 are chemicals that can disrupt the hormone system, and 21 are chemicals associated with respiratory illnesses.
Chief Masty had the highest levels of mercury and persistent organic pollutants such as PCBs and organochlorine pesticides. These findings are further evidence for the fact that many chemicals tend to accumulate in the North, despite its distance from most stationary sources of industrial pollution.
“The movement of pollutants through the atmosphere is a reality we are concerned about in the North as it harms our lands, waters and air, and affects the wildlife resources we depend on for our way of life," said Chief Masty. "If other countries have taken action to reduce or eliminate some pollutants, Canada should follow suit."
One of the British Columbia volunteers is the renowned artist and naturalist Robert Bateman, who makes his home on Salt Spring Island. “Participating in this testing program was very important to me,” Bateman said. “Not only am I curious about my own chemical contamination, but it is even more vital that the public as a whole pays attention.”
The Canadian Environmental Protection Act was passed in 1999, and includes a mandated five-year review of the progress Environment Canada and Health Canada have made in assessing and categorizing 23,000 substances during the past five years.
Before changes to the law, if any, are finalized, Environmental Defence is using the Toxic Nation report to call on the federal government to virtually eliminate the use of toxic chemicals, starting with some of the most harmful.
The organization cites the dangers of brominated flame retardants (PBDEs). Preliminary evidence suggests that high concentrations of PBDEs may cause neurobehavioral alterations and affect the immune system in animals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified one PBDE, decabromodiphenyl ether, as a possible human carcinogen.
The report mentions the hazards of phthalates, which are chemicals that make plastics soft. When soft plastic toys are sucked or chewed, the phthalates can leach into the saliva. One phthalate, DEHP, is considered by the U.S. EPA to be a probably human carcinogen, based on the liver cancers developed by rats and mice that were exposed to the substance.
Environmental Defence is calling on the government of Canada to make industry accountable for its chemicals and to regulate chemicals in consumer products through the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
The government should create a special section in CEPA to focus on pollution reduction in the Great Lakes basin, the nonprofit group recommends, and most of all the law must be effective.
"We need a pollution law with teeth - one that is comprehensive and enforceable. We need a law that will hold polluters accountable and help create a cleaner environment," Turmel said.
“Our report demonstrates clearly the urgent need for the federal government to act now to break the cycle of human contamination,” said Smith. “The federal Minister of the Environment has a new deadline: when can we expect, as a society, to be able to produce toxin-free babies?”
"Toxic Nation: A Report on Pollution in Canadians," including test results of the individual volunteers, is online at: www.toxicnation.ca.
Individual Canadians can act to reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals by taking the Chemical Reduction Pledge on the Toxic Nation site. By filling out the pledge, people can choose five ways to reduce their exposure to chemicals through simple changes in their daily lives.