Canada: Prenatal /Child Toxics And Chronic Disease

Last Updated: March 12 2012
Article by Dianne Saxe

The Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment (CPCHE) has released a video to help families reduce child health risks associated with common household toxics. Their top five priorities:

Controlling house dust; switching to less-toxic, fragrance-free cleaners; taking extreme care with renovation projects; avoiding certain types and uses of plastics; and choosing fish that are low in mercury. The video is based on the report, Early Exposures to Hazardous Chemicals/Pollutants and Associations with : A Scoping Review, which was published by the Canadian Environmental Law Association, the Ontario College of Family Physicians and the Environmental Health Institute of Canada. It was prepared through a multi-year collaboration between the Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment (CPCHE) and the Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance (OCDPA), with support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

According to the report:

"Environmental influences on health are multifaceted, involving multiple pollutants, exposure routes, on a scale ranging from macro to micro (e.g., from built environment features to the loading of floor dust with toxic substances), multiple interrelationships, and life course vulnerabilities. ... in utero and perinatal "environment" and maternal and early childhood circumstances play major roles in the risk of later life disease....

a rapidly expanding body of research indicates a role for early life exposure to environmental contaminants in this lifelong continuum of disease vulnerability.... Given the significant burden in terms of mortality, illness or hospitalization and attendant economic costs of chronic diseases, including the contribution from environmental exposures, a broader approach to prevention is worthwhile....

Table 1 provides a summary of early exposures (in utero or childhood) for which there is evidence of associations with prevalent chronic diseases addressed in this review:

Cardiovascular disease (CVD)

  • Lead, smoking, particulate air pollution, " Substances associated with cardiac birth defects " Substances associated with low birth weight
  • Endocrine disrupting substances affecting insulin signalling (BPA and phthalates), adult dev'mt of polycystic ovarian syndrome (BPA and other EDCs), lower testosterone levels in adults (BPA, phthalates, PCBs), and dysfunction in HPA-axis and stress response (lead).

Cardiac Birth Defects

  • Ambient air pollution (specifically carbon monoxide and ozone), organic solvents in dyes, lacquers and paints (specifically halogenated hydrocarbons including trichloroethylene and dichloroethylene), chlorophenoxy herbicides, trihalomethanes, additional pesticides, ionizing radiation, lead, benzene, sulphur dioxide, ETS.

Low Birth Weight

  • Air pollution – CACs (particularly sulphur dioxide and particulates), maternal smoking, ETS, PAHs, lead, mercury, arsenic, OC and OP pesticides, nitrates in drinking water, phthalates, BFRs, polyfluorinated compounds.


  • Endocrine disrupting substances suspected as obesogenic (BPA, phthalates, organotins, PBDEs, polyfluoroalkyl compounds, OC pesticides, PCBs)
  • Human adenovirus 36, phytoestrogens, glycyrrhetinic acid (sweetener)

Type 2 Diabetes

  • Prudent to assume that known continuum of common risk factors across CVD, metabolic syndrome and diabetes likely extends to early environmental exposures
  • Substances associated with low birth weight " Endocrine disrupting substances relevant to CVD " Suspected obesogens

Alzheimer's disease

  • Prudent to assume that known continuum of common risk factors across CVD, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease likely extends to early environmental exposures
  • Air pollution, lead

Parkinson's Disease

  • If link to obesity confirmed, prudent to consider obesogens as environmental risk factors " Air pollution, certain pesticides (maneb and paraquat, OC pesticides)

Developmental Neurotoxicity

  • Lead, mercury, arsenic, manganese, organic solvents, OP and OC pesticides, PAHs, ETS, PCBs, phthalates, BPA, dibutyltin, PBDEs, triclosan, artificial food colours and additives.


  • Breast " Prostate " Testicular " Other Cancers
  • Breast cancer: ionizing radiation, benzene and organic solvents, 1.3-butadiene, aromatic amines, BPA, phthalates, parabens, alkylphenols, PAHs, OC and triazine pesticides, PBDEs and other POPs, metals, tobacco and ETS, vinyl chloride, ethylene oxide. (See also Table 6.)
  • Prostate cancer: Synthetic hormones in food production, BPA
  • Testicular cancer: Maternal exposure to several POPs
  • Testicular Dysgenesis Syndrome: EDCs with anti-androgenic action (phthalates, some pesticides, BPA)
  • Other Cancers: particulate air pollution, radon, multiple pesticides, chlorination byproducts, cadmium, aromatic amines, PAHs, diesel exhaust, smoking and ETS, dioxin, ionizing radiation, vinyl chloride, some paints and solvents, cell phone use (see also Table 5)

Respiratory disease (asthma)

  • Substances associated with low birth weight
  • Smoking and ETS, aeroallergens, indoor and outdoor air pollution including all the CACs (ozone, CO, PM10 and PM2.5, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, many different VOCs), multiple hazardous air pollutants (PAHs, aldehydes, acid vapours and aerosols, diesel exhaust), formaldehyde, VOCs, phthalates, aldehydes, isocyanates, anhydrides, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, manganese, nickel, benzene, dibutyl phthalate, dioxins, PCBs, metals (esp. lead), some pesticides, BPA, perfluorinated compounds"

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Dianne Saxe
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