Prescription for a Healthy Canada: Moving towards a National Environmental Health Strategy | National Union of Public and General Employees

Prescription for a Healthy Canada: Moving towards a National Environmental Health Strategy

The Suzuki Foundation has released a report entitled “Prescription for a Healthy Canada”. It highlights shocking news about Canada and our environmental health.

Canadians take for granted an abundance of fresh water, clean air, and pristine wilderness in Canada. The truth is pollution reaches every ecosystem, contaminating water, air and soil. It compromises the health of us all and places children at particular risk.

Of the twenty-nine OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, Canada ranks twenty-seventh in environmental protection legislation.

Canada has no legally binding national standards for air and drinking water quality. There is a continued use of pesticides that other countries have banned for health and environmental reasons. Food safety is compromised by allowing higher levels of pesticide residues than many other nations. A variety of toxic substances continue to have no regulations, while still other proven toxins are under-regulated.

Health and the environment are a top priority to the majority of Canadians. The federal government has a responsibility to act! It is an embarrassment, and entirely inappropriate for Canada to be without a plan to mitigate environmental threats and protect its citizens' health.

The report, authored by Professor David Boyd of Simon Fraser University, offers five priority areas for a National Environmental Health Strategy:

  • Improving research and monitoring will help identify environmental contaminates and our exposure to them. Biomonitoring studies will create a database that can inform public and health officials.
  • With regards to strengthening laws, regulations, and policies, there are a variety of specific recommendations and amendments on the table. A shift in perspective that would allow legislators to apply the precautionary principle to the release and use of potentially dangerous substances would avoid the problems faced in the past by lead, benzene, sulphur, CFCs, and PCBs to name a few.
  • Building professional capacity and raising public awareness about environmental health issues is key to a cultural shift that embraces the precautionary principle as the citizens of Sweden do; "When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically." Any strategy needs to include information distribution and efficient communications between health professionals, researchers, legislators, and the public.
  • Currently pollution disproportionately affects the poor and Aboriginal communities. Environmental contaminates have a greater impact on children, pregnant women and those with a compromised immune system. A National Environmental Health Strategy needs to confront the unjust distribution of environmental harms and protect vulnerable populations.
  • Finally, the report recognizes the hypocrisy perpetuated when Canada continues to export toxic substances that are banned in Canada. All citizens deserve a healthy environment, and economic interests should never trump health and safety. A Canadian National Strategy must prioritize environmental health on the international stage.

Take Action

Citizens can demand that the government develop and implement a national environmental health strategy; contact federal representative and let them know Canada can do better. Each of us can work to eliminate health hazards at work through our joint health and safety committees. For more information and to download a copy of the report go to www.davidsuzuki.org/health.

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