August 2-9, 2004

CELA, Probe short-list substances of concern for children's health

The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) and Pollution Probe have released a new short list of Canadian "substances of concern" for children's health.

Described as a scoping exercise, the research project sought to classify toxic substances in lists that make it easier to understand the substances' effects on children's health. Where possible, it indicates the health effects of these substances according to level of exposure, noting that exposure data are very limited.

In order to develop the short list, the researchers carried out a literature review of various aspects of child health and environment. They also drew upon existing international lists of toxic substances, narrowing this to three key lists in order to reflect Canadian content: the Domestic Substances List (DSL), the non-Domestic Substances List (nDSL), and a Health Canada list of substances with the greatest potential for exposure (known as the GPE list).

The study found international scientific consensus - even in cases where research was funded by the chemical and/or pesticides industry - that the developing fetus and infants up to six months of age are the most vulnerable to environmental impacts of toxic substances. The greatest risk to children appears to be from chemicals that affect their lungs and developing brains. For children older than six months, the study notes that industry-funded findings differ from other scientific research indicating that the vulnerability of children continues, in various ways, throughout childhood into adolescence.

The CELA/Probe literature review and examination of the database of substance lists indicated a large number of substances and groups of substances of specific concern to the health of children. These include:

*metal groups (i.e. lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and chromium IV), as well as compounds within these groups;

*dozens of pesticides and groups of pesticides;

*the persistent organic pollutants addressed in the international Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) treaty, as well as several additional POPs;

*indoor and outdoor air pollutants (dozens and possibly hundreds), including those associated with vehicle emissions and other combustion sources, as well as toxic compounds;

*phthalates;

*radiation sources; and

*numerous substances found in consumer products, such as flame retardant compounds and drinking water disinfection byproducts.

To this list, the study adds environmental tobacco smoke as a substance of concern to children. Along with children, the report singles out women of childbearing age and pregnant women as at-risk populations. Air pollution, including indoor air and dust, and consumer goods, appear to be key exposure sources.

"People should note that of the over 23,000 substances in commercial use in Canada, full toxicological evaluations have been conducted on only a fraction," said CELA's Kathleen Cooper, a senior researcher on the project. "Canada has made some progress but government and industry still manage substances largely as separate items, with detailed evaluations and a high degree of proof of harm needed before taking regulatory action. We still know very little about many of the chemicals that are released and we know even less about the exposure impacts they have."

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which governs toxic substances, is scheduled for review in 2005, and a new Canadian Health Protection Act is proposed for 2006. Among the recommendations resulting from the study are:

*an expansion of the database constructed for the project and the short-listing exercise to include pesticides and further results of DSL categorization;

*further research emphasis on the "dirty six dozen," a group of substances suspected or associated with four or more of the health effects noted in the study; and

*assignment of priority to respiratory toxins and developmental neurotoxins, to ensure that substances suspected or associated with respiratory or brain development impacts are caught during DSL categorization for inherent toxicity and evaluation of nDSL substances.

The report also raises a number of questions which it says should be addressed in the evaluation of the substances of concern pinpointed by the study. Among these are: where the substances are used; how the emissions and/or exposures are occurring; whether specific facilities and/or consumer products are involved; whether some exposures are of greater significance to children than others and if so, which ones and why; and what kind of child-specific data and methods have been/are being used in setting regulatory limits.

"We need to look at more efficient ways to get through the backlog of chemicals that have not been evaluated. Decisions are necessary to more strictly regulate or phase out entire groups of hazardous substances, particularly those suspected of harming brain development," said Ken Ogilvie, executive director of Pollution Probe.

The study report may be viewed on the Pollution Probe and CELA Web sites, www.pollutionprobe.org/Publications/Childrens.htm and www.cela.ca.

More information is also available from Kathleen Cooper at CELA, 416/960-2284, ext 221, E-mail kcooper@cela.ca.

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