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Promoting environmental health awareness

from the May 16, 2011 issue of Connect

Promoting environmental health awareness

Over the last 65 years, we’ve seen the introduction of approximately 82,000 chemicals in commercial use in North America. Just think of plastics, as an example. In Canada, 23,000 chemicals are listed as being manufactured in, imported into or used in our country . Of these, 4,000 are considered common, persistent and bioaccumulative (they are stored in the body and build up over time). Due to the sheer volume, these are only gradually being evaluated under a federal plan to manage chemical use.

For Canadians, this means a great deal of uncertainty surrounding their level of exposure to toxic substances and the subsequent health impacts on themselves and their families.

“Though we can’t always determine a direct causal link between environment and disease outcome, growing evidence suggests we need to consider what substances we are exposed to on a day-to-day basis – especially as we see rising rates of certain types of cancers, birth defects, reproductive difficulties, asthma and cardio-respiratory diseases, which all have associations with environmental exposures,” says Nancy Bradshaw, community outreach co-ordinator at the Environmental Health Clinic. “In fact, the Word Health Organization has estimated that approximately 70 to 90 per cent of all diseases are due to differences in environment. Another way of looking at illness and its prevention is that genetics load the gun and the environment pulls the trigger.”

That’s why Women’s College Hospital takes promoting environmental health seriously. And why our Environmental Health Clinic – the only clinic of its kind in Ontario, and one of two in all of Canada – hosted a one-day conference on May 4 entitled Environmental Health: Clinical Pearls.

Nearly 40 health professionals received continuing education credits for attending sessions on health impacts from multiple environmental exposures, plastics, pesticides and heavy metals, as well as receiving practical tips on “greening” in nursing and hospitals, and clinical advice and tools for diagnosing and managing patients with multiple chemical sensitivities, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. Over 80 people attended the rounds on Health Effects of Poor Indoor Air Quality. The participants indicated that they want – and need – more of this information, which has both individual and global implications for health protection and disease prevention.

“A number of physicians said that after what they learned, they will now include a few questions relating to environmental exposures (for example, at work, at home and in the community) when they take down a patient’s history,” adds Bradshaw. “That’s a positive outcome of this conference – it’s an example of something that physicians and other health-care providers can do to assess environmental impacts on their patients’ health, which help determine the diagnosis, treatment and, ultimately, the prevention of various illnesses.”

The conference was hosted in conjunction with the University of Toronto, the Environmental Health Institute of Canada and Continuing Education for Better Outcomes.

For more information on environmental health and the Environmental Health Clinic, please click here.

Environmental Health

(From left to right) Nancy Bradshaw, Dr. Alison Bested, Dr. Lynn Marshall, Dr. John Molot,
Dr. Riina Bray, Dr. Kathleen Kerr (missing from photo: Gloria Fraser).

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