Globe and Mail Update
September 7, 2007 at 10:10 AM EDT
Although the leaders of Ontario’s three main parties are currently on the hustings trying to highlight their political differences, they’re remarkably similar in one respect: all of them are laced with traces of chemical pollutants.
Earlier this year, the leaders gave blood and urine samples to environmentalists to be analyzed for chemical contaminants, and according to a report on the results being released Friday, the three men carry in their bodies a bewildering variety of pesticides, residues from stain and grease repellants, and compounds used in plastics.
Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory topped the ranking with 44 different compounds, marginally ahead of NDP leader Howard Hampton, who had 42, and Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty, who had 41. The politicians were checked for the presence of 70 chemicals that have been linked to health problems, such as cancer.
The testing, organized by Environmental Defence, found that the politicians, for unknown reasons, carry moderately higher contaminant levels than ordinary Canadians who agreed to let the group analyze their bodily fluids.
Among the compounds the politicians were tested for was bisphenol A, a chemical that mimics the female sex hormone estrogen and is used by companies to make consumer products ranging from plastic baby bottles to the linings of tin cans.
Before now, there has been no publicly available information on whether Canadians have this chemical in their bodies, but all three of the leaders had bisphenol A at levels that have been found to be harmful in animal experiments.
Why politicians tend to have higher contaminant levels than other Canadians was a puzzle both to those who organized the testing and to the politicians.
”It does make you wonder whether there is something about the politician’s lifestyle that is particular and exposes them in unique ways to some of these chemicals,” said Rick Smith, Environmental Defence’s executive director.
However, he said in tests of more than 20 Canadians to date, including federal politicians, everyone has been found to have chemicals in their body that are suspected of causing cancer, disrupting hormone functioning or leading to birth defects. The chemicals that the politicians were tested for are found primarily in consumer goods and food.
”It doesn’t matter where you live or what age you are or how powerful you are. We’re all contaminated by these chemicals,” Mr. Smith said.
The politicians said it was an eye opener to find out that they carried so many chemicals.
”Finding out what toxics are in your body is a humbling experience,” Mr. McGuinty said.
The highest chemical exposures the politicians had were for a class of compounds known as phthalates, chemicals used to soften plastic and a primary component of the new car smell in automobiles. Phthalates are often also found in cosmetics, to which politicians are exposed more than most men because they typically have makeup applied before appearing in television studios.
NDP Leader Howard Hampton said he was ”alarmed at how many pollutants are in my body.” He said politicians may have more chemicals because they’re constantly on the road travelling and have so little control over what they eat.
The politicians were also tested for polychlorinated biphenyls, a now banned chemical used in electrical transformers. Despite being no longer being in use, the PCBs are so persistent all the politicians tested positive for them.
The analysis also found all the politicians had stain repellent and non-stick compounds known as perfluorinated chemicals, organochlorine pesticides, and air pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in their bodies.
The finding of bisphenol A in the politicians is sure to add to the controversy over the chemical. The chemical is currently the subject to a highly contentious safety review by Health Canada and Environment Canada.