Environmental pollution isn’t something that only affects the outdoors. Our bodies are permeable, and human beings are part of the very ecosystem we pollute. A new federal report offers some good news and bad news on just how polluted our bodies are.

This week, the federal government released the Third Report on Human Biomonitoring of Environmental Chemicals in Canada, part of the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS). The study shows the presence of contaminants in Canadians – our toxic “body burden.”

The results, based on samples taken from 5,800 Canadians aged 3-79, appear to show a slight increase in the level of the harmful chemical triclosan in Canadians. At the same time, levels of lead and BPA, after federal regulatory action, appear to be decreasing slightly. While these differences are not statistically significant, and require more analysis, information about levels of contaminants in the bodies of Canadians can offer insights on where further steps need to be taken to reduce exposures.

Triclosan is an antibacterial chemical linked to hormone disruption and the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The federal government declared triclosan toxic to the environment in 2012 but has yet to take any risk management action to limit Canadians’ exposure – that’s why we need a ban now. Environmental Defence and other health and environmental groups have been calling for such a ban for years.

The numbers for triclosan are moving in the wrong direction. In the previous CHMS biomonitoring report (2009-2011) the average urine concentration of triclosan was 15 μg/g creatinine, compared to an average urine concentration of triclosan of 17 μg/g creatinine for the 2012-2013 results (creatinine adjusted). In light of the toxicity of triclosan, the results indicate that more needs to be done to protect Canadians from further exposure to this contaminant – levels should be going down, not up.

There’s good news as well in the new federal data. Levels of BPA in urine appear to be decreasing slightly. Average urine concentration for BPA was 1.4 μg/g creatinine in samples collected 2007-2009, and is now down to an average urine concentration of 1.1 μg/g creatinine in samples collected 2012-2013 (creatinine-adjusted results).

Why is this important? BPA is an endocrine disrupting chemical that can impact the body’s hormones and has been linked to breast cancer and risk factors for diabetes. The fact that BPA levels are declining in Canadians means that eliminating this chemical from products is making a difference.

The same downward trend is apparent for lead levels, demonstrating that bans and restrictions are an effective way to reduce exposure. The heavy metal can cause serious health problems like high blood pressure and severe mental and physical development issues in children. Lead is a potent neurotoxin, and is toxic to other organs of the body as well. It is banned from gasoline, but trace amounts still appear in cosmetics and other products.

No amount of lead exposure is known to be safe, and studies have shown that even low levels of BPA might be having an impact, so we must continue to reduce the presence of these toxic chemicals in consumer goods. A ban on triclosan would be an important step to reduce our exposure to this pollutant.

Find out more about how to take action to reduce toxic pollution, and check out our tips and guides to learn how to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals found in household items.

About the CHMS:

The Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) is a national survey that is led by Statistics Canada, in partnership with Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, which collects information from Canadians about their general health. Wednesday’s release is the Third Report on Human Biomonitoring of Environmental Chemicals in Canada, part of the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS). The results, based on samples taken from 5,800 Canadians aged 3-79 collected January 2012 – December 2013 at 16 sites across Canada, represent Canadians’ toxic body burden for 104 chemicals of concern, 50 of which are detailed in this week’s release, including Bisphenol A (BPA), lead and triclosan.

Canadians are fortunate to have access to the resources provided by the CHMS. The biomonitoring data being gathered give researchers insights that will hopefully lead to improved environmental protections that will benefit the health of Canadians.