In assessing the health effects of development activities, particularly on federal lands, the federal government considers how potential changes in ambient pollution levels may affect longer term community health. Air quality, water quality, noise and country foods are factors that can effect the health of communities.
Assessing risk in human health
A human health risk assessment can help identify whether there are potential health risks associated with development activities that occur in Canada. Three components must be present for a health ‘risk’ to exist:
- A hazard: means the harm that something can cause. For example, a chemical released to the environment.
- A receptor: individuals or communities
- An exposure pathway: a means by which people are exposed to the contaminant. For example, ingestion or inhalation from air, food or water.
The main air pollutants of concern in Canada are fine particulate matter, ground-level ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide. In specific regions of the country you may find issues related to a range of other pollutants such as metals.
These pollutants can be responsible for significant population health impacts, including:
- the exacerbation of asthma and related symptoms;
- a range of other respiratory effects;
- effects on cardiovascular outcomes including heart attacks;
- the development of heart disease;
- increased likelihood of admission to hospital; and
- premature death.
Contamination of groundwater or surface water from development activities can impact drinking water sources which directly affects human health. In Canada, responsibility for the safety of drinking water is shared by the various levels of government.
- Provinces and territories: The principal responsibility of providing safe drinking water to the public generally rests with the provinces and territories.
- Municipalities: Municipalities usually oversee the day-to-day operations of treatment facilities and distribution systems.
- The federal government: In addition to developing the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, the federal government has or shares responsibility for ensuring the safety of drinking water supplies on federal lands, in federal facilities, in First Nations communities south of the 60th parallel as well as interprovincial ships, trains and airplanes.
The World Health Organization has Guidelines that provide recommended sound level limits intended to protect people from negative noise impacts. These impacts may include sleep disturbance, interference with communication, long-term annoyance and hearing impairment.
Assessing the potential noise emissions of new project development activities and how they may contribute to the cumulative noise levels in communities helps identify better strategies to mitigate their effects.
Access to country foods contributes to improved nutrition for many communities. However, diminished access and/or possible contamination of country foods can affect nutrition and lead to increased health risks.
Development activities can displace wildlife and reduce community access to country food. Contaminants in the air or the water can accumulate in the food chain and transform country food into an exposure pathway. This can disproportionally affect Indigenous communities where country foods often constitute a significant portion of the overall diet. As an example, the bio-accumulation of methyl mercury in fish and their subsequent consumption by humans is a common country food contamination pathway. The ingestion of methyl mercury is linked to neurological effects, especially in children.
Energy Production and National Environmental Radiation Monitoring
Nuclear energy production in Canada
Nuclear power plants have been producing electricity commercially in Canada since the early 1960s. Today, five plants in three provinces house 22 nuclear power reactors. One of these plants was shut down in 2012, but continues to operate from a waste management point of view. Nuclear energy produces about 15 percent of Canada's electricity. More information about nuclear power plants is available from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
Nuclear power is a clean method to generate electricity, because this process does not emit greenhouse gases. A transition to clean power is needed to help Canada achieve its climate change goals.
Several departments are involved in radiation monitoring, each of them fulfilling different roles.
Health Canada monitors, detects and assesses radiation in the environment across Canada and internationally. There are three specialised networks with radiation monitoring stations at over 100 locations across Canada. One of these networks is the Fixed Point Surveillance (FPS) network, which provides near real-time radiation dose readings, updated every 15 minutes. While the FPS network has stations installed across the country, Health Canada has increased monitoring density around points of interest such as nuclear power plants.
The interactive map below highlights the FPS network () in close proximity to clean power generating stations like nuclear plants (), in Southern Ontario.
Visualize Radionuclide Readings through Location and Time
Explore airborne radionuclide levels measured by the Canadian Radiological Monitoring Network (CRMN) over time () through the layering capabilities of the interactive map. The CRMN is another specialised radiation-monitoring network, distinct from the FPS, which routinely monitors airborne and deposited radioactivity in the environment.
Interestingly, charted readings for any location show a notable increase in anthropogenic (man made) radionuclides between March and May of 2011. Those coincide with the nuclear accident at the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan. There are also spikes in cesium-137 activity, which are often associated with re-suspension from forest fires. The levels of activity seen here pose no health concern.
Zoom in on the map to your area of interest. The layers panel on the left presents data that can be expanded () to reveal additional layers. Click to turn on or off any layer according to your interests.
Select a location to see location details. For example, in terms of the CRMN layer (), select a monitoring station to see airborne radiation levels for any location. Radiation levels for all locations are presented in a chart that show readings over time through an interactive graph. Adjust the parameters according to date range and concentration level interests.
Access Health Content
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