Health Caucus

Health Caucus – October 2014 update:

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) has released a comprehensive report on the changing face of industrial pollution in North America, covering the years 2005 through 2010. This is the first time an edition of the CEC’s Taking Stock series, which gathers data from pollutant release and transfer registers (PRTRs) in Canada, Mexico and the United States, has analyzed North American pollutant information over an extended timeframe.

This volume of Taking Stock documents pollutant releases and transfers reported over the six-year period by approximately 35,000 industrial facilities across the region. Key findings include:
• Total reported amounts of pollutants increased by 14 percent (from over 4.83 billion kilograms in 2005 to more than 5.53 billion kilograms in 2010), driven by releases to land (108-percent increase) and off-site disposal (42-percent increase). These increases reflect the introduction of Canada’s more comprehensive reporting requirements on tailings and waste rock, as well as on total reduced sulfur (TRS), resulting in more complete reporting by the metal ore mining and oil and gas extraction sectors in Canada.
• Most other types of releases and transfers declined over this period—including releases to air from electric utilities, mainly in the United States, which declined by 36 percent. Changes in regulations for fossil fuel–based power plants, along with facility closures, were the drivers of these decreases. 
• There was also a 38-percent decrease in releases to air of substances in four categories that have significant potential to cause harm to human health or the environment: known or suspected carcinogens, developmental or reproductive toxicants, persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) substances, and metals.
By providing details at the country level, Taking Stock also highlights the gaps in the picture of North American industrial pollution that are created by differences in national PRTR reporting requirements and practices. For example:
• Of the more than 500 pollutants reported across the region every year, only 60 are common to all three PRTRs.
• Oil and gas extraction, a key sector tracked in Canada and that ranks among the top sectors for reported releases and transfers each year, is not subject to reporting in the United States. Mexican data show a low level of reporting by oil and gas extraction facilities.
• Compared to the United States and Canada, Mexican data show wider fluctuations in reporting between 2005 and 2010, reflecting the fact that Mexico’s PRTR is relatively new.
“As a result of ongoing collaboration among the three countries’ PRTR programs and the CEC, we are now able to track industrial pollutant releases and transfers across North America and over time to identify tendencies, as well as important gaps, in reporting. By establishing linkages between PRTR data and facilities’ environmental sustainability efforts, Taking Stock supports the needs of the private sector, governments, citizens, and communities concerned with and affected by North American industrial pollution,” said Irasema Coronado, CEC Executive Director. 

Decreases in pollutant releases from pulp and paper mills—a look at the driving factors
This year’s report also takes advantage of six years of North American PRTR data to examine releases reported by pulp and paper mills—which have consistently ranked among the top sectors for releases to air and water in North America. The data show that between 2005 and 2010, the sector’s releases to air decreased by 19 percent and releases to water by 6 percent. Taking Stock identifies the drivers of these decreases, through data analyses, a survey of mills, and information from industry representatives. Among the findings:
• A key driver of the decreases seen over this period has been the shutdown of several facilities in Canada and the United States (the two countries with the most reporting from this sector).
• Emissions typically associated with pulp and paper mills include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), methanol, hydrogen sulfide, phosphorous, and formaldehyde, among others. However, some of these pollutants are not subject to reporting in one or more of the three countries (e.g., methanol in Mexico), creating challenges when analyzing the pollution profiles of pulp and paper mills.
• While factors such as new emissions regulations have played a role in the decline in releases over this period, the report also shows that facilities’ own environmental engagement, as well as customer demand for environmentally-friendly products, have had impacts—with mills adopting environmental management decisions that include pollution prevention and mitigation practices.

Explore North American PRTR data online
The data presented in the Taking Stock report can be searched using the CEC’s Taking Stock Onlinetool, which is updated annually with data from North America’s three PRTRs. It allows users to:
• explore information on industrial pollutant releases and transfers;
• generate reports in a variety of formats, including pie charts and spreadsheets;
• create maps and view them using Google Earth; and
• analyze PRTR data with respect to other information, such as locations of watersheds, rivers, lakes, and population centers, using geospatial data from the North American Environmental Atlas

Fall 2014 Update

Health Caucus Presents at World Urban Forum 7 in Medellin, Columbia

This WUF7 session (Healthy Cities for Healthy Life – Halifax, Canada as a Healthy, Sustainable Model City) was presented by the Health Caucus of the Canadian Environmental Network (RCEN) as part of a new category of presentations known as the City Changer category.

The “I'm a City Changer” logo was on the cover of WUF7 materials and highlighted on walls and banners throughout the WUF convention facilities. The session was very well received and attended by people from over 25 countries.

The city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada was showcased as an example of a city that has made decisions to ensure that its citizens have a safe and clean environment, which benefit both the health of the environment and the public.

The discussion began with an explanation of the “Total Load Concept” – the totality of exposures as they affect both the earth and people – both of which exceed their carrying capacity when they can no longer process or defend themselves from various toxic substances.

The following areas of action were discussed in relation to public health, the environment and indoor air quality:

Introduction of non-smoking legislation for all public buildings, schools, and places of entertainment, thereby improving overall health and reducing healthcare costs as a result of improved indoor air quality.

The pesticide bylaw prohibiting the use of non-essential pesticides in public areas, schools, playgrounds, hospitals and neighborhoods, thereby minimizing asthma, chemical sensitivities, and other health issues related to exposure to pesticides. People can now exercise freely in healthier, more resilient public spaces, knowing that they will not encounter pesticides. At the same time, urban lands are relieved of chemical releases to air, water and soil thus establishing healthier, more resilient ecosystems.

The establishment of "no scent" policies in public places has reduced the total carrying load of the body, thereby strengthening overall immunity and resistance to disease. Education on this subject helps people to make choices that give them more control over their health at home and in their work environments. Since less toxic products typically have fewer and milder ingredients, their usage has the added advantage of reducing the burden on wastewater systems.

The two new schools built in Halifax to the highest environment and health standards (even beyond LEED standards) have dramatically improved the learning environment for students and staff. One of the more encouraging and obvious benefits is that asthmatic children attending these two schools rarely need to use their “puffers”. The healthier building materials provide a perfect cradle-to-grave solution for buildings. The building principles used for these schools are equally applicable to homes, hospitals and all public buildings.

In discussion, attendees raised numerous issues, such as how to demonstrate the relationship between ill health and chemical exposure. They also wondered how the minds’ of “old school” medical professionals can be changed to acknowledge that there are now proven links between chemical exposures and certain health outcomes.

We also explored how Halifax achieved its expertise by using Multi- Stakeholder Decision-Making Process. While initially the initiatives were very much citizen-lead, eventually business interests, governments, the medical community, academia and the media were all engaged in bringing about these progressive and far-reaching changes.

In terms of focusing on UN Habitat's specified thematic areas, the session was cross-cutting in several of the themes. With the achieved legislation, bylaws and policies, the Halifax Story figured prominently in Urban Land, Legislation and Governance. The Halifax initiatives also impact the Urban Economy agenda by promoting sustainable development and greening of the economy. The huge reduction in pesticide use strengthens the carrying capacity and resiliency of urban ecosystems while stimulating less toxic (greener) approaches to the care of lawns, parks and public spaces.

The thematic area of Housing and Slum Upgrading was also addressed since building environmentally healthy buildings of any kind has the outcome of greening the building industry in its entirety. Health costs are significantly lowered by providing access to healthier housing and workplaces, recreation facilities and places of worship for all citizens.

The Health Caucus of RCEN in full has engaged with UN Habitat at WUF3 in Canada, WUF4 in China, WUF5 in Brazil and now WUF7 in Colombia.

The Caucus has kept step with and contributed to the ongoing dialogue involving the extensive world urban issues. We plan to continue to build our partnership with UN Habitat and to network with attendees through our strong email list, developed during our session.

At Habitat III, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are currently under development. In the environmental community, we often think in terms of "developing sustainability" as opposed to "sustainable development" which can sound as if the main goal is to sustain development. The four Halifax initiatives form a model that can inform the SDGs through the example of developing environmental sustainability, a green economy and improved human and environmental health while also reducing health care costs.

The Halifax city-wide dialogue that ensued during these changes and the experience of broad shared decision making contributed to stronger, more resilient ecosystems and a better informed, connected, equitable and resilient city. These factors should figure prominently as enrichment to the post 2015 agenda as well as the new urban agenda in general, as all partners go forward toward Habitat lll.

This session was presented by Sheila Cole, an Environment and Health Educator and Advisor from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Ms. Cole played an active role in the achievement of the Halifax initiatives and in bringing them to the attention of global audiences, particularly through UN Habitat's World Urban Forum. Ms. Cole is Chair of the WUF7 Committee of the Health Caucus of the Canadian Environmental Network.

Environmental Sensitivities Month 2011

May is environmental sensitivities month! With over 1 million Canadians diagnosed with environmental sensitivities, members of the Health Caucus are committed to raising awareness around this growing issue. 

environmental health bannerEvents:

May 12, Montreal - Environmental Health: Seeds of Change
Conference organized by the Environmental Health Association of Quebec and the Institut des sciences de l’environnement, UQAM
Keynote Speaker: Richard Nahas MD CCFP

May 28, Montreal - Toxic Trespass: Effects on Human Health
Conference organized by the Environmental Health Association of Quebec
Speaker: John Molot MD CCFP

Petition: Sign the Environmental Health Association of Quebec's petition to have the Quebec National Assembly declare the month of May as Environmental Sensitivities awareness and education month and May 12 as Environmental Sensitivities Day in Quebec.

Fifth World Urban Forum

In March 2010, UN Habitat hosted the Fifth World Urban Forum (WUF5) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The theme, Right to the City: Bridging the Urban Divide, was richly reflected in hundreds of educational sessions with ongoing opportunity for cross‐cultural exchange of ideas and best practices from almost every country in the world.

Sheila Cole, Co‐Chair of the Health Caucus, attended WUF5 and also presented a session on Community Engagement in Local and National Decision‐Making. This event focused in depth on the subject of Multi‐Stakeholder Decision‐Making Processes. See the delegate reports from WUF5 below:

RCEN-Safe Environments Programme Consultation on Stakeholder Engagement

In cooperation with Health Canada, the RCEN coordinated a consultation and ENGO position paper on stakeholder engagement within Health Canada’s Safe Environments Programme (SEP). The consultation took place in Ottawa on January 16, 2007.

This Consolidated ENGO Report on the outcomes of the consultation provides input on SEP priorities and gives feedback on specific policies and initiatives in the SEP program areas.

Fourth World Urban Forum

The World Urban Forum (WUF) was established by the United Nations to examine one of the most pressing issues facing the world today: rapid urbanisation and its impact on communities, cities, economies and policies. Since WUF3 in 2006, the world population has shifted from being in majority rural to a majority urban.

Recognizing the success of the RCEN Health Caucus at WUF3, the caucus was selected to host a networking event at the Fourth World Urban Forum, which took place in November 2008 in Nanjing, China. In addition to hosting a Networking Event, entitled A Culture of Sustainability: Multi-Stakeholder Process and morning NGO sessions, Arciris Garay-Arevalo was chosen to be part of the official Canadian delegation to WUF4 and the small delegation of Health Caucus members took part in multiple conferences, many of which are discussed in the reports found below:

Third World Urban Forum

In June 2006, the WUF3 Secretariat (Human Resources and Social Development Canada) and Environment Canada sponsored 18 ENGOs to participate in the Third World Urban Forum (WUF3) that took place in Vancouver, BC. In addition to participating fully in the many activities and events scheduled during the week, these delegates also organized several RCEN events at WUF3:

RCEN E-Bulletin

Steering Committee

Jim Elliott (Chair)
The Gaia Group, SK

Sheila Cole
Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia, NS

David Daughton
Eastern Co-operative Health Organization, PEI

Sandra Madray
Chemical Sensitivities Manitoba, MB

David J. Parker
Vegetarians of Alberta Association, AB

Rohini Peris

Environmental Health Association of Québec

Caucus Coordinator