OTTAWA -For those who believe Parliament Hill is a toxic environment, here’s some food for thought: a wide range of harmful pollutants have been found in the bodies of four federal MPs who volunteered to have their blood and urine tested for toxins.
Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, Health Minister Tony Clement, NDP Leader Jack Layton and Liberal environment critic John Godfrey were tested for 103 pollutants for a study by Environmental Defence, a group that campaigns against the use of toxic chemicals.
All four politicians had pollutant levels higher than child and adult volunteers who participated in a similar study released in June.
In fact, the politicians had higher total concentrations in every comparable chemical group, from strain repellents and non-stick chemicals to PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), metals and pesticides.
Godfrey registered the highest number of total pollutants, at 55, followed by Clement and Layton, at 54, and Ambrose, at 49.
Clement had the most elevated concentration of PCBs, non-stick chemicals and organochlorine pesticides.
Layton posted the highest concentration of flame retardants and PAHs, while Godfrey had the highest level of organophosphate insecticide metabolites and Ambrose the highest level of arsenic.
Clement, who joked he must have been involved in “too much frying-pan action,” said the results show the degree to which Canadians are exposed to chemicals.
“Nearly every Canadian is exposed to some form of chemicals in their day or week, so our job as a government is to make sure that whatever accumulates in our body is at a safe level.”
Godfrey was surprised by the level of toxins in his system, given that he tries to lead a healthy lifestyle.
“I run every morning. I swim when I can. I eat carefully, I try to eat organic food if it’s possible,” he said.
“Even those people who try to live a healthy lifestyle and avoid bad things can’t help but acquiring toxins in their blood through eating and drinking and simply being exposed to materials that they’re not even aware contain these things.”
Labs in Quebec and British Columbia tested the blood samples for pollutants in seven broad groups: PCBs; stain repellents and non-stick chemicals (known as PFCs, or perfluorinated chemicals); organochlorine pesticides (such as DDT); organophosphate insecticide metabolites; heavy metals (such as mercury and lead); air pollutants called PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons); and flame retardants (PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers).
Many of the pollutants discovered in the politicians’ bodies are associated with cancer, developmental problems, respiratory illnesses, damage to the nervous system and hormone disruption, noted Environment Defence.
A total of 61 pollutants were detected in the four MPs, including 18 PBDEs, 13 PCBs, 10 organochlorine pesticides, seven PAHs, five PFCs, five metals and three organophosphate insecticide metabolites.
Clement said the results underscore the need for more extensive monitoring of the chemicals coursing through the bodies of Canadians.
Last month, the Conservative government announced an ambitious toxin-reduction plan that could lead to a number of dangerous chemicals being banned or restricted.
Under the plan, Statistics Canada will test roughly 5,000 people across Canada for toxins to estimate the level of chemical exposure in the overall population. The study will be completed in 2009.
Godfrey said the plan is a “step in the right direction,” but Canada needs to be more aggressive in eliminating hazardous chemicals from the marketplace.
The plan calls for potentially harmful chemicals to be assessed over three years, giving industry an opportunity to comment.
In a study released last summer, Environmental Defence found a range of harmful chemicals in the blood of five families living across the country.
The full report on the four politicians, called Toxic Nation on Parliament Hill, is available at www.toxicnation.ca.