Environmental Contaminants Measured in Canadians

Posted by on Dec 21, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

In our environmental site assessments, we evaluate chemicals (in soil, water, and air) based on regulatory standards established by the provincial or federal government.  These limits are established based on what is protective of human health and the environment.

Canadian Health Measures Survey

Looking, specifically, at the human health aspect is the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS).  This survey, among other things, tests humans (blood and urine) for certain environmental contaminants.

The CHMS is a national survey that is led by Statistics Canada in partnership with Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.  The CHMS is part of the Government’s actions on chemicals and includes the Chemicals Management Plan.

This comprehensive survey of Canadian citizens began in 2007, and participation, if chosen, is mandatory. Since 2007, more than 250 chemicals have been measured in over 29,000 Canadians from 3 to 79 years of age at 81 sites across Canada.

There have been six cycles of testing; Cycle 7 will run from January 2021 to December 2022.

Data Collected From Citizens

This survey collects information from Canadians about their general health.  They do this through personal interviews and the collection of physical measurements.  The survey provides baseline data on indicators of environmental exposures, chronic diseases, infectious diseases, fitness, and nutritional status, as well as risk factors.

The physical measurements include such factors as height and weight, blood pressure, physical fitness, and lung function measures, as well as many measures based on blood and urine samples, including environmental chemicals.

The survey also collects information on Canadians’ “health habits.”  The first part of the survey is a household interview, which includes questions on many health-related topics.  The second part of the survey involves a visit to a mobile examination center to collect direct physical measures such as blood pressure, height and weight, bone density, and vision tests.

Blood draw

Blood samples are tested for the potential presence of environmental contaminants (Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash).

Factors that Influence Testing

In deciding which environmental contaminants to test for in a given community, they look at the following factors:



  • Known or suspected health effects
  • Level of public concern
  • Evidence of exposure in the Canadian population
  • New or existing requirements for public health action
  • The ability to detect and measure the chemical or its breakdown products in humans
  • Similarity to chemicals monitored in other national and international programs to allow for meaningful comparisons
  • Costs of performing the analysis

Blood tests are one component.  From the Canadian Government, “We will analyze your blood samples to determine your exposure to substances found in the environment.  These substances include cadmium, lead, chromium (in red blood cells), perfluoroakyl substances, and total mercury.”

Urine tests include:

“We will use the urine sample collected at the clinic to analyze your exposure to over 40 chemical substances found in the environment, including:

  • arsenic (used in pesticides and naturally present in the environment)
  • bisphenol A (BPA) (used in the manufacture of dental sealants, packaging, receipts, etc.)
  • nicotine”

Additionally, they test for the presence of several types of organophosphate insecticides and parabens (used as preservatives in many cosmetics and body care products), alternative plasticizer metabolites, metabolites of phthalates, metals, and trace elements.

Testing also can include household water samples as well as indoor air.

Some Bio-Monitoring Data

There are literally reams of data as they breakdown the information by cycle, age, parameter, etc.  Below are just a few of the data points provided in Opportunities and Challenges From Leading Trends in a Biomonitoring Project: Canadian Health Measures Survey 2007–2017.

  • “Nine of the 10 leading biomarkers with the largest decreases were environmental chemicals. The levels of 1,2,3-trimethyl benzene, dodecane, palmitoleic acid, and o-xylene decreased by more than 60%.  All of the 10 chemicals with the largest increases were environmental chemicals, and the levels of 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene, nonanal, and 4-methyl-2-pentanone increased by more than 200%.  None of the 20 biomarkers with the largest increases or decreases between cycles were associated with BMI (body mass index).”
  • “Three environmental chemicals measured with air samples show the highest rates of increase: 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene, nonanal, and 4-methyl-2-pentanone.  1,2,4-trimethylbenzene is an important gasoline additive and is often used in the petroleum industry.”
  • From Statistics Canada, “Blood lead levels have declined substantially since 1978. Today, less than 1% of Canadians have blood lead levels above the Canadian blood lead intervention level of 10 µg/dL.  This proportion was 27% just 30 years ago.”

You can take a deep dive into the data in “Report on Human Biomonitoring of Environmental Chemicals in Pooled Samples.”  You may run into some dead links when reading the information on line.  Hopefully, these links have been repaired.

Our focus at Dragun is on the environmental media (soil, water, air). This is an interesting look at the actual potential impact on human health.

Understanding Groundwater Contamination

Back to our area of expertise, we have a series of nine (more to come) pre-recorded webinars:  Understanding Groundwater Contamination.  This series may be helpful for you if you are an environmental manager.

As always, if you have any questions, you can reach me at 519-948-7300, Ext. 114.

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