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Key Things to Know About Biomonitoring in Canada

April 2013

Harper Government Releases Second Set of Biomonitoring Data from the Canadian Health Measures Survey

  • Human biomonitoring is the measurement of a chemical, or the products it makes when it breaks down in the body (as measured in our blood and urine). The measurements indicate the amount of a chemical that is present in a person at a given time.
  • Biomonitoring data collected in the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) provide a nationally-representative sample of Canadians' exposure to chemicals.
  • Health Canada scientists use this information:
    • as a baseline from which to measure future results and find out if the levels in the Canadian population are changing over time;
    • to identify if Canadians' exposure is comparable to sub-populations in Canada or to populations of other countries such as the United States;
    • to prioritize further research on potential links between the exposure to certain chemicals and specific health effects;
    • as part of ongoing risk assessment of chemicals; and
    • to inform the development of risk management actions to protect the health of  Canadians and to measure the impact of these actions over time.
  • The information is also available to scientists in Canada and around the world for research purposes.
  • Cycle 1 (2007-2009) results, released in 2010, included data on 92 chemicals measured in approximately 5,600 Canadians aged six to 79 years.
  • Cycle 2 (2009-2011), released on April 17, 2013, includes data on 91 chemicals measured in approximately 6,400 Canadians, aged three to 79 years.
  • Sample collection is currently underway for Cycle 3 and is expected to be complete in December 2013. Planning is underway for Cycles 4 (2014-2015) and Cycle 5 (2016-2017).

Questions and Answers

1. Are biomonitoring results in Canada generally the same, higher or lower than the United States?

Results from Cycle 1 released in 2010 show that Canadians' level of exposure to chemicals is generally similar to the United States. Canadians' exposure to some chemicals, such as lead and BPA, are generally lower than the United States. The Cycle 2 data will be analyzed in the coming year.

2. Data show that bisphenol A (BPA) is present in children. What does this mean?

It is important to note that the presence of a chemical in the body does not necessarily mean a health effect will occur. The health risks associated with a chemical, including BPA, depend on the hazard (its potential to cause health effects), the dose (the amount of chemical to which you are exposed) and the frequency (how often you are exposed).

Canada was the first country in the world to take action to protect newborns and infants against BPA in baby bottles. In 2010, the Government passed regulations prohibiting the advertisement, import and sale of polycarbonate baby bottles that contain BPA. This precautionary action was taken to protect the most vulnerable populations - newborns and infants. 

For more Next link will take you to another Web site information on BPA, please consult the Chemical Substances website: http://www.chemicalsubstanceschimiques.gc.ca/challenge-defi/batch-lot-2/bisphenol-a/index-eng.php

3. What is the Government doing about BPA in food packaging?

Health Canada continues to monitor the latest information around exposure to BPA and the safety of its use as a food packaging material.

The department remains of the opinion that current dietary exposure to BPA through food packaging uses is not expected to represent a health risk to Canadians, including newborns and children. In fact, based on our most recent detailed exposure estimation, exposure rates are actually lower than previously thought. This is good news.

Health Canada has conducted studies with the food and food packaging industries to examine factors that may affect or influence how BPA is transferred to canned foods.  It was determined that the levels being found, specifically in canned infant formula, can be considered to be as low as reasonably achievable.

That being said, the department remains committed to supporting Canadians in making informed food choices. As a result, we continue to support the development of alternatives to using BPA in food can linings and will prioritize the review of these new materials as they are developed.

For additional information on Health Canada's actions to protect consumers from dietary exposure to BPA, please consult:
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/packag-emball/bpa/bpa_rm-gr-2012-09-eng.php

4. Data show that fluoride is present in children. What does this mean?

It is important to note that the presence of a chemical in the body does not necessarily mean a health effect will occur. The health risks associated with a chemical, including fluoride, depend on the hazard (its potential to cause health effects), the dose (the amount of chemical to which you are exposed) and the frequency (how often you are exposed).

Small, detectable amounts of fluoride found in children are similar to the results found for Canadians of all ages and have not been found to pose any risks to people's health at these low levels.

Most Canadians are exposed to fluoride on a daily basis, through the trace amounts that are found in almost all foods and through fluoride that is added to some drinking water supplies to prevent tooth decay.

Fluoride is a natural element that is found in soil, water (both fresh and salt) and in various foods. Fluoride is released into the environment by weathering processes and by volcanic activity. It may also be released by the production of phosphate fertilizers, by aluminum smelting and by chemical manufacturing.

For more information on fluoride, please consult the It's Your Health article on Health Canada's website: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/environ/fluor-eng.php

5. Data show that triclosan is present in children. What does this mean?

It is important to note that the presence of a chemical in the body does not necessarily mean a health effect will occur. The health risks associated with a chemical, including triclosan, depend on the hazard (its potential to cause health effects), the dose (the amount of chemical to which you are exposed) and the frequency (how often you are exposed).

In March, 2012, the Government of Canada released a preliminary health and environmental assessment of triclosan which concluded that current levels of triclosan in products such as toothpaste, shampoo and soap do not pose a risk to human health and Canadians can continue to safely use these products.

In the assessment, the Government specifically considered exposure of vulnerable populations, including children and pregnant women, also confirming their continued safe use of these products.

Additionally, we would expect to see that most Canadians have some level of triclosan in their bodies as a result of the chemical's widespread use. This result is consistent with measurements from the U.S. where over 80% of Americans had detectable levels of triclosan in their urine.

For complete Next link will take you to another Web site information on triclosan, please consult the Chemical Substances website: http://www.chemicalsubstanceschimiques.gc.ca/fact-fait/triclosan-eng.php

6. Data show that lead is present in children. What does this mean?

It is important to note that the presence of a chemical in the body does not necessarily mean a health effect will occur. The health risks associated with a chemical, including lead, depend on the hazard (its potential to cause health effects), the dose (the amount of chemical to which you are exposed) and the frequency (how often you are exposed).

Lead exposure in Canada has decreased substantially since the early 1970s, mainly because leaded gasoline and lead-based paints were phased out and the use of lead solder in food cans was almost completely eliminated. In fact, blood lead levels in Canadians have declined by more than 70% since 1978-79.

Health Canada's Lead Risk Reduction Strategy for Consumer Products has also introduced or tightened lead content limits for:

  • children's jewellery;
  • consumer paints and other surface coatings;
  • applied paints and surface coatings on furniture, toys and other children's articles and on pencils and artists' brushes;
  • glazed ceramic and glass foodware;
  • corded window coverings; and
  • products whose use involves mouth contact, including all toys for children under 3 years of age.

The Government of Canada continues to focus its efforts and resources on further reducing exposure to lead in ways that can make the most difference for the health of Canadians over the long term. For example, we are proposing further lead content limits for other product groups that children are most likely to be exposed to. As part of our Risk Management Strategy for Lead, we are also:

  • strengthening controls on releases of air pollutants from various industrial sectors, which will also provide co-benefit reductions in lead emissions;
  • updating the Soil Quality Guidelines for lead;
  • working with the provinces and territories to revise blood lead guidance for health care providers and public health officials; and
  • updating the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality for lead.

For more information on lead, please consult the It's Your Health article on Health Canada's website: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/environ/lead-plomb-eng.php#he

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