Major Canadian health groups launch new campaign on environmental health
March 6, 2008 (TORONTO) – The Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Lung Association and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada today announced a new joint effort to increase public attention and political action on environmental health hazards.
“We know that Canadians are very concerned about the impact of our environment on their health, both now and in the future,” says Sally Brown, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. “There are definitely achievable goals and concrete actions individuals and governments can take to support a healthier environment.”
The coalition called on Parliament to strike a joint committee of the health and environment committees to study this critical issue and make recommendations to improve the quality of life of Canadians.
“Our three organizations have joined together to tackle key environmental issues that have a significant impact on human health,” says Nora Sobolov, president and CEO of The Lung Association. “We call on all parties and legislators to work together towards a healthier environment for all Canadians.”
The joint review would complement the commitment made in Budget 2008 to expand the Canadian Health Measures Survey to assess the links between environmental contaminants and the risk of illness.
While Ottawa contemplates this proposal, the health charities have focused their attention on two key issues:
· Community Right to Know
· Air Quality
Action to Ensure the Community Right to Know
Canadians need accurate, timely information on environmental hazards that may affect their health – for example toxic or carcinogenic substances in the products they use, the food they eat and the air they breathe.
It is difficult for people to find out about toxic chemicals in their neighbourhoods, workplaces and homes. The majority of products we use and come in contact with do not disclose their contents. And comprehensive information about air quality is not easily accessible to citizens.
The three organizations call on government to:
Extend regulatory requirements for ingredient labeling to all products for human use, with clear, highly visible identification of toxic or carcinogenic substances;
Roll out across the country a national Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), building on current pilot projects, to give Canadians in all parts of the country easy-to-understand information daily on air quality, along with clear recommendations for action to limit exposure to health threatening conditions.
Action on Air Quality
Air pollution presents a serious and growing threat to the health of Canadians, especially people suffering from respiratory illness, heart ailments and other chronic diseases. A recent Health Canada study estimated that air pollution leads to 5,900 premature deaths annually in eight large Canadian cities. In Ontario alone poor air quality causes an estimated 17,000 hospital admissions and 60,000 emergency room visits annually, according to a 2005 study for the Ontario Medical Association.
The resulting economic cost is also high. The overall losses associated with air pollution across the country are estimated at over $20 billion annually, including direct health care costs and indirect costs related to reduced productivity, lost work time and untimely deaths.
The coalition calls on government to:
· Strengthen federal legislation and regulations on air quality. The federal government’s move to introduce regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) limiting industrial emissions is a step in the right direction. But much more is needed, including National Air Quality Standards to ensure that emissions controls actually result in cleaner air, regulatory restrictions on substances contributing to indoor air hazards, and greatly higher automobile emissions standards, equivalent to the most stringent in North America.
· Fund public awareness and incentive programs to encourage consumer and industry action to reduce air pollution and mitigate air quality hazards, e.g. programs for increased conservation awareness, energy-saving retrofits on multi-unit residential buildings, and radon mitigation.
· Increase dedicated federal investments in public transit in urban centres across the country. Allocation of at least 7% of federal transportation infrastructure funds to active transportation infrastructure; e.g. bike paths, walking trails and sidewalks.
“Together, we are working to create conditions in which Canadians are empowered to protect their own health, and ensure that their elected representatives create policies that will give us cleaner air and water, and a safer, healthier environment,” says Dr. Barbara Whylie, CEO of the Canadian Cancer Society.
More information on air quality