Nurses say the province must act on dangerous toxins and chemicals
The bill entitled “Recognizing a Fundamental Right: The Community Right to Know Act would strengthen the public’s right to know about potential hazards in consumer products and provide better access to information about toxins and pollutants.
“RNs are engaged in health promotion, disease prevention, and illness care. Our goal is to keep Ontarians healthy and care for them when they are sick and that’s why we are speaking out about the environment,” says RNAO President Mary Ferguson-Paré.
RNAO Executive Director Doris Grinspun will tell the committee that the province must move quickly with a plan to get toxins out of the environment to help Ontarians avoid environmental diseases. “The plan should include regulation, technical assistance, and incentives through subsidies and taxes,” says Grinspun. “Bill 164 is a necessary first step towards informing Ontarians and protecting their health but more must be done.
RNAO is also urging government to seek guidance from jurisdictions such as the European Union, which is leading the way with a precautionary principle when it comes to industrial substances and their impact on the environment and people’s health. This includes building large margins of safety to protect children who are especially vulnerable to toxins.
“We know that the environment is a major determinant of health and people flourish best when they live in clean, green environments,” says Ferguson-Paré. Evidence linking the environment to health outcomes is well known. In developed regions, environmental factors accounted for 17 per cent of deaths. Research suggests that occupational exposures alone account for 10 to 20 per cent of cancer deaths. Equally alarming is the Canadian and international evidence showing these negative impacts are experienced more frequently by lower-income people. “Environmental protection is not only a matter of health but also a matter of social justice,” Ferguson-Paré adds.
Conditions such as asthma, cancer, developmental disabilities, and birth defects have become the primary causes of illness and death in children in industrialized countries. Chemicals in the environment are partly responsible for these trends. Recently, tests have shown Canadians (including politicians who volunteered to be tested) had elevated levels of hazardous chemicals in their bodies, including hormone disruptors, neurotoxins, and others associated with respiratory illnesses and reproductive disorders.
“The time for procrastination has passed. People are demanding action from their legislators and governments. Nurses are speaking out on this issue because we will not allow Ontarians and their children to be sickened by environmental causes,” adds Grinspun.
The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the professional association representing registered nurses wherever they practise in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has lobbied for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses’ contribution to shaping the health-care system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public they serve.