Canadian Journal of Public Health

, Volume 110, Issue 2, pp 159–164 | Cite as

The challenge of pollution and health in Canada

  • Niladri BasuEmail author
  • Bruce P. Lanphear


The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, which conducted a comprehensive assessment of the health and economic impacts of key forms of toxic pollutants in air, water, and soil, estimated that 9 million people die annually from the impact of pollution, which represents 16% of all deaths worldwide. Over 90% of these pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. While Canada ranks seventh lowest in the world, the burden is still too high; many pollutants were not considered in the Commission’s work, and vulnerable populations—including the poor, women, children, and Indigenous peoples—are disproportionally affected by pollution in Canada. As Canadian co-authors in the Lancet Commission, here we consider the impact of pollution on the health of Canadians and discuss how best to address the problem.


Public health Pollution Review Canada Disease Environment 


La Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, qui a mené une évaluation complète des impacts des principales formes de pollution de l’air, de l’eau et du sol sur la santé et l’économie, a estimé que 9 millions de personnes meurent chaque année des conséquences de la pollution, ce qui représente 16 % de tous les décès dans le monde. Plus de 90 % de ces décès liés à la pollution ont lieu dans les pays à revenu faible ou intermédiaire. Bien que le Canada se classe 7e parmi les pays du monde ayant le moins de décès, le fardeau que la pollution impose aux Canadiens et Canadiennes est tout de même imposant. Notamment, plusieurs combinaisons polluant-maladie ne sont pas incluses dans les travaux de la Commission, et les personnes pauvres, les femmes, les enfants et les Autochtones sont atteints de manière disproportionnée par la pollution au Canada. En tant que co-auteurs canadiens du rapport de la Commission, nous examinons dans cet article les impacts de la pollution sur la santé des Canadiens et Canadiennes et discutons de la meilleure façon de régler le problème.


Santé publique Pollution La revue Canada Maladie Environnement 


Compliance with ethical standards

Competing interests

Dr. Lanphear is serving as an expert witness in a case of lead poisoning in Milwaukee and Flint, Michigan, but he receives no personal compensation for these services. Over the past 5 years, Dr. Lanphear has served as an expert witness in California for the plaintiffs in a public nuisance case of childhood lead poisoning, a Proposition 65 case on behalf of the California Attorney General’s Office, a Canadian tribunal on trade dispute about using lead-free galvanized wire in stucco lathing, and cases of lead poisoning in Milwaukee, WI, and Flint, Michigan, but he receives no personal compensation for these services. Dr. Lanphear has served as a paid consultant for the California Department of Toxic Substance Control.

Dr. Basu is a member of the Government of Canada’s Chemicals Management Plan (CMP) Science Committee. Dr. Basu has received research funding from diverse sources to study chemical pollution, and over the past 3 years, these have included NSERC, IDRC, US NIH (Fogarty International Center, US NIEHS), US EPA, Genome Canada, Genome Quebec, First Nations Environmental Contaminants Program, the Northern Contaminants Program, the World Health Organization, and McGill University.


  1. Aguirre, A. A., Beasley, V. R., Augspurger, T., Benson, W. H., Whaley, J., & Basu, N. (2016). One health-transdisciplinary opportunities for SETAC leadership in integrating and improving the health of people, animals, and the environment. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 35(10), 2383–2391. Scholar
  2. Arbuckle, T. E., Fraser, W. D., Fisher, M., Davis, K., Liang, C. L., Lupien, N., Bastien, S., et al. (2013). Paediatric & Perinatal Epidemiology, 27(4), 415–425. Scholar
  3. Boyd, D. (2012). The Right to a Healthy Environment: Revitalizing Canada’s Constitution. Vancouver: UBC Press.Google Scholar
  4. Brook, R. D., Rajagopalan, S., Pope, C. A., Brook, J. R., Bhatnagar, A., Diez-Roux, A. V., Holguin, F., Hong, Y., Luepker, R. V., Mittleman, M. A., Peters, A., Siscovick, D., Smith, S. C., Whitsel, L., & Kaufman, J. D. (2010). Particulate matter air pollution and cardiovascular disease: an update to the scientific statement from the American heart association. Circulation, 121, 2331–2378. Scholar
  5. CANSIM (2014) Leading causes of death, total population, by age group and sex, Canada annual – CANSIM Table 102–0561. 2014 Statistics Canada, Canadian Vital Statistics, Death Database and population estimates. Accessed 19 Jan 2018.
  6. Chemicals Management Plan Science Committee (2016). Integrating New Approach Methodologies within the CMP – Identifying Priorities for Risk Assessment, Existing Substances Risk Assessment Program. Committee report. Last accessed 24 May 2018.
  7. CHMS. (2017). Fourth Report on Human Biomonitoring of Environmental Chemicals in Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS). Health Canada.Google Scholar
  8. Compendium of Canada’s Engagement in International Environmental Agreements, 7th Edition updated for (2017) Last Accessed 28 May 2018.
  9. Cryderman, D., Letourneau, L., Miller, F., & Basu, N. (2016). An ecological and human biomonitoring investigation of mercury contamination at the Aamjiwnaang First Nation. EcoHealth, 13(4), 784–795 Epub 2016 Sep 19. PubMed PMID: 27645755;.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  10. Donaldson, S. G., Van Oostdam, J., Tikhonov, C., Feeley, M., Armstrong, B., Ayotte, P., Boucher, O., Bowers, W., Chan, L., Dallaire, F., Dallaire, R., Dewailly, E., Edwards, J., Egeland, G. M., Fontaine, J., Furgal, C., Leech, T., Loring, E., Muckle, G., Nancarrow, T., Pereg, D., Plusquellec, P., Potyrala, M., Receveur, O., & Shearer, R. G. (2010). Environmental contaminants and human health in the Canadian Arctic. Sci Total Environ, 408(22), 5165–5234. Scholar
  11. ECHA (2017) New Approach Methodologies in Regulatory Science – Proceedings of a Scientific Workshop. Last Accessed 24 May 2018.
  12. Gore, A. C., Chappell, V. A., Fenton, S. E., Flaws, J. A., Nadal, A., Prins, G. S., Toppari, J., & Zoeller, R. T. (2015). EDC-2: The Endocrine Society's second scientific statement on endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Endocrine Reviews, 36(6), E1–E150.
  13. Ha, E., Basu, N., Bose-O'Reilly, S., Dórea, J. G., McSorley, E., Sakamoto, M., & Chan, H. M. (2017). Current progress on understanding the impact of mercury on human health. Environmental Research, 152, 419–433. Scholar
  14. Haines, D. A., Saravanabhavan, G., Werry, K., & Khoury, C. (2017). An overview of human biomonitoring of environmental chemicals in the Canadian Health Measures Survey: 2007-2019. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 220(2 Pt A), 13–28. Scholar
  15. Health Canada. (2017). Health Impacts of Air Pollution in Canada: An Estimate of Premature Mortalities. Ottawa: Health Canada.Google Scholar
  16. Hoek, G., Krishnan, R. M., Beelen, R., Peters, A., Ostro, B., Brunekreef, B., & Kaufman, J. D. (2013). Long-term air pollution exposure and cardio- respiratory mortality: a review. Environmental Health, 12(1), 43.
  17. IISD. (2017). Costs of Pollution in Canada. International Institute for Sustainable Development. Canada: Winnipeg.Google Scholar
  18. Jardine, C. G., Banfield, L., Driedger, S. M., & Furgal, C. M. (2013). Risk communication and trust in decision-maker action: a case study of the Giant Mine Remediation Plan. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 72.
  19. Judson, R., Richard, A., Dix, D. J., Houck, K., Martin, M., Kavlock, R., Dellarco, V., Henry, T., Holderman, T., Sayre, P., Tan, S., Carpenter, T., & Smith, E. (2009). The toxicity data landscape for environmental chemicals. Environmental Health Perspectives, 117(5), 685–695. Scholar
  20. Kuhnlein, H. V., & Chan, H. M. (2000). Environment and contaminants in traditional food systems of northern indigenous peoples. Annual Review of Nutrition, 20, 595–626.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Kuhnlein, H. V., Receveur, O., Soueida, R., & Egeland, G. M. (2004 Jun). Arctic indigenous peoples experience the nutrition transition with changing dietary patterns and obesity. The Journal of Nutrition, 134(6), 1447–1453.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Landrigan, P. J., & Goldman, L. R. (2011). Children's vulnerability to toxic chemicals: a challenge and opportunity to strengthen health and environmental policy. Health Affairs, 30(5), 842–850.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Landrigan, P. J., Fuller, R., Acosta, N. J. R., Adeyi, O., Arnold, R., Basu, N. N., Baldé, A. B., Bertollini, R., Bose-O’Reilly, S., Boufford, J. I., Breysse, P. N., Chiles, T., Mahidol, C., Coll-Seck, A. M., Cropper, M. L., Fobil, J., Fuster, V., Greenstone, M., Haines, A., Hanrahan, D., Hunter, D., Khare, M., Krupnick, A., Lanphear, B., Lohani, B., Martin, K., Mathiasen, K. V., MA, M. T., CJL, M., Ndahimananjara, J. D., Perera, F., Potočnik, J., Preker, A. S., Ramesh, J., Rockström, J., Salinas, C., Samson, L. D., Sandilya, K., Sly, P. D., Smith, K. R., Steiner, A., Stewart, R. B., Suk, W. A., van Schayck, O. C. P., Yadama, G. N., Yumkella, K., & Zhong, M. (2017). pii: S0140–6736(17)32345–0). The Lancet Commission on pollution and health. Lancet.
  24. Lanphear, B. P., Hornung, R., Khoury, J., Yolton, K., Baghurst, P., Bellinger, D. C., Canfield, R. L., Dietrich, K. N., Bornschein, R., Greene, T., Rothenberg, S. J., Needleman, H. L., Schnaas, L., Wasserman, G., Graziano, J., & Roberts, R. (2005). Low-level environmental lead exposure and children's intellectual function: an international pooled analysis. Environmental Health Perspectives, 113(7), 894–899.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  25. NRC. (2007). Toxicity testing in the 21 st century – A vision and strategy. Washington, D.C: U.S. National Academies of Sciences.Google Scholar
  26. Paris Agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (2015). CP.21, 21st Sess, UN doc FCCC/ CP/2015/L9 [Paris Agreement] preamble.Google Scholar
  27. Schulte D. (2017) Healthy Environment, Health Canadians, Healthy Economy: Strengthening the Canadian Environmental Protection Acti, 1999. Report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainability. 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. Accessed 19 Jan 2018.
  28. Short-term drinking water advisories (2018): First Nations south of 60. Last accessed Jan 17 2018.
  29. Sutton, P., Woodruff, T. J., Perron, J., Stotland, N., Conry, J. A., Miller, M. D., & Giudice, L. C. (2012). Toxic environmental chemicals: the role of reproductive health professionals in preventing harmful exposures. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 207(3), 164–173. Scholar
  30. Takaoka, S., Fujino, T., Hotta, N., Ueda, K., Hanada, M., Tajiri, M., & Inoue, Y. (2014). Signs and symptoms of methylmercury contamination in a first nations community in northwestern Ontario, Canada. Sci Total Environ, 468-469, 950–957. Scholar
  31. UN (2015). Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, GA Res 70/1, UNGAOR, 70th Sess, UN Doc A/RES/70/1 2015. [Transforming Our World]. Preamble.Google Scholar
  32. UN (2018). Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment – Annual reports. United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner . Last accessed 28 May 2018.

Copyright information

© The Canadian Public Health Association 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental SciencesMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  2. 2.BC Children’s HospitalSimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

Personalised recommendations