On February 1st 2012, BCAM partnered with the National Network on Environments and Women's Health (NNEWH), UNIFOR and the Canadian Women’s Health Network, to host "Preventing Environmental and Occupational EDC Exposures: A Strategic Collaboration". The forum assembled a broad coalition of union representatives, occupational health and safety groups, women's health and environmental organizations, and First Nations people, to discuss and devise strategies for achieving changes in provincial and federal policy that would prevent occupational and environmental exposure to toxic chemicals, such as hormone disruptors.
Here is a summary of some of what was presented at the conference.
1. There are no regulatory actions for endocrine disruptors as there are for carcinogens and mutagens.
2. Vanessa Gray, a youth activist from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation & Vice Chair, Victims of Chemical Valley, encourages youth in her community to respond to the frustration of living with high levels of asthma in youth, stillbirths and spills from the Shell plant. Vanessa looks at the problem as environmental racism; with Bill C45- companies no longer have to clean up after themselves once they have completed projects. Vanessa works with youth to bring their Native culture back to Chemical Valley as a way to deal with the circumstances they must face living in such a toxic environment.
3. Michael Gilbertson, a biologist who worked on the effects of dioxins on Great Lakes wildlife, raised the debate between toxicologists (the dose makes the poison) vs endocrinologists (low dose exposures can be harmful) citing a study in the journal Nature. Toxicology: The learning curve
Synopsis of article
Researchers say that some endocrine disrupting chemicals have unexpected and potent effects at very low doses — but regulators aren't convinced. These effects are in the measured "safe" zones, deemed safe by the toxicologists, whose ways of working for the last 70 years have determined risk assessment tests used to form regulatory policies.
This is how that thinking goes: dose and effect move together in a predictably linear fashion, and that lower exposures to a hazardous compound will therefore always generate lower risks. This idea is not just a philosophical abstraction; it is the core assumption underlying the system of chemical-safety testing that arose in the mid-twentieth century. Risk assessors typically look for adverse effects of a compound over a range of high doses and, from there, extrapolate downwards to establish health standards — always assuming, like Paracelsus (sometimes called the father of toxicology), that chemicals, toxic at high doses are much less risky at lower, real-world levels.
But what if this presumption is wrong? What if, for a large and potent class of compounds, lower doses pose higher risks? A growing number of academic researchers are making just such a claim for endocrine disrupters, a large group of synthetic chemicals able to interact with cellular hormone receptors. These compounds, which range from the common weed killer atrazine and the plasticizer bisphenol A (BPA) to the antibacterial agent triclosan (used in cleansers) and the vineyard fungicide vinclozolin, don't play by the usual rules of toxicology. On the basis of conventional high-dose testing, regulators have set maximum acceptable levels for each of them that assume all doses below that level are safe. But academic researchers who have studied a wider range of doses, including very low ones found in the everyday environment, say that their experiments usually do not generate the tidy, familiar 'ski-slope' dose-response graphs of classic toxicology. Instead, most endocrine disrupters have 'non-monotonic' dose-response curves, meaning that their slopes change at least once from negative to positive, or vice versa, forming 'U' shapes, inverted 'U'.
When even minuscule quantities of BPA and other disrupters interact with hormone receptors at crucial moments in development — activating, jamming, hijacking or otherwise messing with their normal function — they can give rise to strange-looking experimental results, especially when other hormones are thrown into the mix.
As the list of chemical thresholds no longer applies, we need changes to regulations. Sari Sairanen (National Director of Health, Safety and Environment Unifor), stresses that we need to educate the regulators.
4. Class and gender: While it is true that we are all exposed to carcinogens and EDCs, the degree to which exposure occurs is not the same for all. Class and gender count: Blue collar workers, night shift workers, people who work in bars and gambling locales , food canning plants, and plastic workers all have higher exposures and are therefore at a higher risk. Jim Brophy and Margaret Keith's ground-breaking research on chemical exposures of women workers in the plastics industry addresses this problem head on: their findings show an elevated risk of breast cancer for women in the plastic industry.
The Canadian Environmental Protection Act's (CEPA) Chemical Management Plan does not include a gender analysis nor does it refer to EDC's as a separate category of chemicals. Neither does the labeling of consumer products under the Hazardous Products Act of Health Canada include EDCs as a distinct category nor does it include a gender analysis.
5. Permissive vs precautionary approaches: Scientists until the 1980's used to share their knowledge as this was part of their responsibility. Now, scientists can publish in peer reviewed journals but they know that they can't talk about their work openly or publicly. The government regularly puts gag orders on scientists. Some scientists fear that the onus for science to produce absolute proof where there is concern about a health risk is becoming too much the norm. This approach is very different from the Precautionary Principle a term in use since 1988, which expresses the idea that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". In other words, if the consequences of an action are unknown, but are judged to have potential for major or irreversible negative consequences, then it is better to avoid that action. We need to eliminate the hazard up front! "Safe" levels no longer exist, given what we know today.
6. Chronic disease: It is essential that we start to make the link between EDCs and chronic illnesses visible. CPCHE, the Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment published a document which gathers published evidence for associations between early life environmental exposures and the later development of several of the most common chronic diseases including cancers (breast, prostate, lung and colorectal), asthma, Type II Diabetes, cardiac disease, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease: Early Exposures to Hazardous Chemicals/Pollution and Associations with Chronic Disease: A Scoping Review 2011.
7. Ontario's Toxic Reductions Act: This first came out in 2009 and now needs to be amended to include a list of EDCs using a Right to Know principle. "Right to Know" is the legal principle that the individual has the right to know the chemicals to which they may be exposed in their daily living. The "right to know" was a movement made popular by Rachel Carson with her book Silent Spring. In Canada the Right to Know is protected by Canadian law, described in Environment Canada.