NDP Leader Jack Layton is the first federal politician to be tested for toxic chemicals by a group called Environmental Defence, which released a report in June suggesting Canadian kids have traces of dangerous chemicals that have been banned for years in their bloodstreams.
Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, Health Minister Tony Clement and Liberal Environment Critic John Godfrey have all said they’d like to take the test.
Environmental Defence says Layton’s test will highlight the broad range of chemicals Canadians are exposed to and that these dangerous substances are found in everyday products, such as furniture, electronics, cleaning products and clothing.
“It’s astonishing how many MPs still refuse to make the connection between the products we use today and enduring health effects,” Layton said. “The NDP has taken the lead on protecting communities by proposing Parliament outlaw cancer-causing pesticides. This blood-test challenge goes a long way to raise awareness for all Canadians especially law-makers and those responsible for producing products that lead to health problems.”
Layton’s blood will be analyzed for 102 compounds, including PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls); stain repellants and non-stick chemicals known as PFCs, or perfluorinated chemicals; pesticides such as DDT; heavy metals including mercury and lead; air pollutants; and flame retardants.
This test is just a part of Environmental Defence’s Toxic Nation campaign in which the group is measuring the amount of these types of chemicals in a broad range of Canadians.
“It is well known that Canada is one of the worst polluting countries in the world but what had not been known until we did this testing is the extent to which this pollution has seeped into our bodies,” said Dr. Rick Smith Environmental Defense
“Canada is failing miserably to protect its people from these kinds of pollution.”
For more on Environmental Defence’s campaign, click here.
Where Do Toxic Chemicals Come From?
Electrical Power Generation
Coal-fired power plants emit mercury, dioxins and furans, and components of smog such as nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide; emissions of carbon dioxide also contribute to climate change.
Chemicals manufacturing refers to the production of a wide range of substances including petrochemicals, industrial gases, synthetic dyes and pigments, resin, synthetic rubber, artificial and synthetic fibres, filaments, pesticides, fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals, paint, coating, adhesives, soaps, cleaning compounds, and personal care products. Common pollutants emitted from chemicals manufacturing facilities include sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, VOCs, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and dioxins.
Iron and Steel Manufacturing
Steel mills produce iron from iron ore, coke and fluxing agents, which are then converted into refined steel; in the process of producing steel, facilities emit air pollutants such as hydrochloric acid, manganese compounds, phenol, naphthalene and benzene, as well as the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
Foundries and die casting facilities produce a range of goods including automotive parts, jewelry and plumbing fixtures by pouring molten metal into molds; in the process of producing these goods, facilities emit organic air pollutants and metals.
Petroleum refineries process crude oil into fuels like gasoline and diesel fuel, non-fuel products like lubricating oils and asphalt, and raw materials (i.e. benzene, toluene, xylene) for the chemical industry. In the process of refining crude oil into these various products, petroleum refineries emit toxics like particular matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and VOCs (benzene, toluene, and xylene).
Pulp and Paper
Paper mills process wood and wood fibre for use in paper products; this process involves digesting or cooking down wood material into a pulp and separating fibres from impurities, the pulp is then bleached, dewatered, pressed and rolled; emissions from these facilities include nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, dioxins and greenhouse gases.
The agricultural sector uses an array of pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides to kill unwanted insects, plants and animals. Pesticides and other types of harmful chemicals used in agriculture contaminate the food we eat, as well as air, water and soil when they run-off from crops and enter the wider environment.
Canadians are also exposed to toxic chemicals everyday through commonly used products in the home, such as perfumes, shampoos, air fresheners, cleaning products, furniture and appliances, frying pans and food and beverage containers.
Particular activities, such as home renovations, are also a source of chemical exposure. Many paints, adhesives and carpets release high levels of volatile organic compounds; demolition can expose asbestos; and stripping old paint (pre-1960) can release lead into your household air.
To learn how to reduce exposure to chemicals in your home, click here.
Even our food can contain chemicals that are harmful to human health, either through pesticide sprays on fruits and vegetables, or by simply being grown in and around contaminated soil, air and water. In addition to pollutants found on fresh produce, 94 to 99 per cent of people’s exposure to persistent organic pollutants, such as PCBs and pesticides, comes from diet, particularly the consumption of fish, fatty meats and dairy products.
How Do Toxic Chemicals Get Into Our Bodies?
When toxic chemicals are released, either through industrial or agricultural processes or consumer products, they make their way into our bodies through:
- the lungs (inhalation),
- skin (dermal absorption), and/or
- mouth (ingestion)-these are known as routes of exposure.
What Chemicals Get Into Our Bodies?
Hormone disrupting chemicals, such as brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and phthalates, can mimic, block or interfere with hormones such as estrogen, androgen and the thyroid, resulting in reproductive defects, reduced fertility, and neurological, behavioural and developmental problems.
Carcinogenic chemicals can cause or aggravate cancer, which is the growth of abnormal cells that spread throughout the body, in some cases leading to death.
Neurotoxic chemicals fall into three main groups, heavy metals and metal compounds, solvents and other simple organic compounds, and pesticides. These chemicals cause damage to the brain and can lead to developmental and behavioural disabilities, particularly in children because their brains are still developing.
Respiratory toxins affect the breathing system. When these toxins are inhaled they affect the nasal passages, pharynx, trachea, bronchi, and lungs. These toxins cause both acute and chronic illnesses such as bronchitis, pulmonary fibrosis, emphysema, cancer, and general breathing problems. As irritants, respiratory toxins can also increase the severity and incidence of respiratory infections and can aggravate asthma.
Reproductive toxins can affect reproductive ability and sexual function. Examples of reproductive disorders that may be caused by these toxins include endometriosis, failure to ovulate normally, tubal pregnancies, miscarriages and still births (for women), and low sperm count and motility, undescended testes, hypospadius and testicular cancer (in men). Developmental toxins can negatively impact normal childhood development and growth, in both physical and mental terms.
Many chemicals can also damage the kidney, liver and other organs, as well as impair the immune system.
Courtesy of Environmental Defence