Canadian Environmental Health Atlas

Understanding Our Environment is Key to Promoting Health and Preventing Disease

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Aboriginal people are dispersed across Canada with many living in small rural and remote communities separated by vast geographical distances and differentiated by language, culture, and history.

From the time human beings began cooking food over smoky fires, people have been exposed to air pollutants. Before the industrial revolution, however, air pollution occurred on a relatively small scale. With the widespread adoption of the internal combustion engine after 1850, the scale of air pollution changed.

“Environmental justice” refers to the inequitable exposures to environmental hazards or how environmental hazards (1) disproportionately affect humans of lower (2) socioeconomic status (SES).

Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that is resistant to flames and corrosion and was used during the past century as an insulator, is a leading cause of deaths from mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Biomarkers of exposure, which enhance our ability to quantify an individual’s “internal dose” of a contaminant, are revolutionizing the study of toxins in the same way genetic tests are revolutionizing the study of heritability

The concentration of toxins (quantity in water) and dose (amount of water ingested) determine whether a person will experience harmful effects. Ingestion is the most common route of exposure, though some toxins can be absorbed through the skin or by inhalation while taking a shower.

Cryptococcus gattii (C. gattii) is yeast that can be found in soil, trees and bird droppings in certain temperate regions of British Columbia. When the spores of the yeast are inhaled they can infect the central nervous system, lung and skin in both humans and animals.

Many Canadians live in “food deserts”: neighbourhoods where residents have little or no access to stores and restaurants that provide healthy and affordable foods. Imagine a frail older woman who has to carry a heavy shopping bag for many blocks on icy sidewalks or a single father who has to struggle aboard a crowded bus with his toddler and a load of groceries.

The dramatic effect of heat on human health was clearly demonstrated during recent major heat waves including Chicago in 1995, the North American mid-west in 1999, and across Europe in 2003, which together have resulted in thousands of excess deaths.

Inuit are primarily a northern people who inhabit territories in Russia, Alaska, Greenland, and Canada. In 2011, approximately 59,000 people were identified as Inuit in Canada, with about three-quarters residing in one of 53 communities in the far north.

Lead, an element found naturally in the earth’s crust, is released into the environment by human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, mining and manufacturing.

Does excessive exposure to artificial light at night have a harmful impact on human health? “Light pollution” from powerful street lamps and business and office buildings that are lit throughout the night reduces much of our natural exposure to darkness.

Secondhand smoke contains over 7000 chemicals, including 50 known carcinogens.  People exposed regularly to secondhand smoke have a greater risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer, and breathing problems, including pneumonia, bronchitis, and asthma.

SARS is a droplet-spread viral illness that emerged in Guangdong Province of southern China in November 2002. In less than a year, cases were identified in 26 countries, illustrating the speed at which an emerging infection can spread around the globe via international air routes.

Video lottery terminals (VLTs) are electronic gambling machines. For many people, gambling can lead to problem behaviours that have a negative impact on their health and well-being, and may also contribute to poverty and inequality.