Many Canadians will find it disturbing to learn that their country has fallen behind in protecting its citizens from environmental threats to their health. While most developed countries have adopted national health and environment strategies, Canada has not.
Each year, millions of Canadians become ill or disabled after being exposed to environmental contaminants linked to asthma, gastrointestinal illness, poisonings, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, developmental disorders, birth defects, and reproductive problems.
No one can put a price on the pain, the suffering, the diminished quality of life, and the loss of life caused by illnesses and death. However, we do know that environmental contamination costs Canada billions of dollars each year due to health care expenses, school absenteeism, decreased intelligence, and lost productivity.
The good news is that we can prevent the majority of the adverse environmental effects on our health.
In Prescription for a Healthy Canada (David Boyd, 2007), the David Suzuki Foundation examined the key environmental health issues in Canada, including indoor and outdoor air pollution, water pollution, industrial chemicals, heavy metals, pesticides, toxic substances in consumer products, climate change, ozone depletion, and declining biodiversity. The study assessed shortcomings in Canadian environmental policy in these areas and considered leading environmental policies adopted by other jurisdictions.
Unlike other leading jurisdictions, including Australia and the European Union, Canada lacks a co-ordinated national strategy for addressing environmental threats to health and promoting a healthy environment for all.
The David Suzuki Foundation calls for a national environmental health strategy for Canada. We recommend five priority areas for action:
1. Improve monitoring and research
2. Strengthen laws, regulations, and policies
3. Build professional capacity and raise public awareness
4. Protect vulnerable populations
5. Promote environmental health on the international stage.