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Human Health

Health Risks
Key Pollutants

Testimony of Dr. Hirsch: an excerpt from the transcript of the hearing of the Environmental Appeal Board in Powell River, B.C., July 7, 1999, in the matter of Fleischer, et al, and Assistant Regional Waste Manager and Pacifica Papers Inc.

The Problem

  • Living near pulp and paper mills carries with it a sense of being at risk.

  • Few of us know what the risks are.

  • Knowing how to create change can be daunting.

  • This presentation will attempt to answer some of those questions.

Pulp Mills Can Impact Human Health

Proving direct cause and effect relationships between environmental exposures and specific diseases is difficult, but there are many good reasons for concern.

  • Workplace hazards

  • Accidental spills

  • Air pollution and health links

  • Contamination of food through air and water

Health Risks associated with known pulp mill pollutants

So, what are the potential health risks from this type of pollution? Our research indicates that the main health risks associated with known pulp mill pollutants fall into five main categories. They are listed, with brief descriptions, below.

  • Asthma and Other Lung Diseases - illnesses where the ability to breathe is damaged and the lungs no longer function fully.

  • Cancer - many chemicals in pulp mill pollution are linked to increased risk of contracting a wide variety of cancers. The World Health Organization estimates that 80% of cancers are caused by occupational or environmental factors, including exposure to hazardous chemicals.

  • Reproductive and Hormone Problems - human infertility, changes in sex ratio (number of males and females) in various species, salmon losing the ability to find their spawning stream: These effects are the result of pollutants mimicking natural hormones in humans and animals.

  • Learning Disabilities - show up as everything from slowed learning times to severe retardation. Some of the chemicals in pulp mill pollution have been linked to increased occurrence.

  • Other Health Effects - include heart disease, immune system damage, and chemical sensitivity (severe allergic reactions).

Some of these effects are only proven in animals, but enough evidence exists to make human effects a valid concern.

How do we know what the health effects are?

Reach for Unbleached! bases its concerns on reliable science. Examples of several places where information can be found:

  • Reach for Unbleached! has a database with abstracts from selected articles about pulp mill pollution, technology and health effects. We participate in federal assessments of toxic chemicals and follow new science discoveries.

  • Scorecard is a web site run by Environmental Defense in the USA. From this page health and environmental effects can be found for most chemicals used intentionally, or created as waste.

  • Pollutionwatch is a tool for researching mill pollution. Emissions are ranked as to relative danger for cancer, reproductive effects, lung diseases and other health impacts.

  • Government Agencies: There are many. Two very useful ones are North American Commission on Economic Cooperation (CEC) - Pollutants and Health Program and EUROHEIS: A European Health and Environment Information System for Disease and Exposure Mapping and Risk Assessment.

  • The Labour Environmental Alliance Society is a non-profit organisation that has excellent presentations on environmental links to cancer and diseases caused by endocrine disrupting chemicals.

Who Is Affected?

  • Workers are highly exposed.

  • Members of ethnic groups with fish-eating cultures

  • Fishermen and other people from coastal communities

  • Recreational fishers who eat their catch

  • People of the First Nations

  • Neighbours and communities also suffer the effects.

  • Children and the elderly are most vulnerable.

Key Pulp Mill Pollutants Affecting Health

We chose five pollutants to focus on, there are others. We made our choices because:

  • The following pollutants are common to many mills.

  • They are emitted in significant quantities and reported to government bodies.

  • Their effects are well-documented, although not always from direct studies in pulp mills.

  • Mills can address these emissions and still afford to make paper.

Key Pulp Mill Pollutants Affecting Health

  • Particulate Matter (PM2.5): tiny airborne particles - small but deadly in lungs, linked to asthma and heart disease.

  • Dioxin: going into air, land, and water - toxic in minute amounts; linked to cancer, diabetes, learning disabilities, and other illnesses.

  • Chlorine/Chlorine Dioxide Gas: cause or worsen lung disease; react to form organochlorines which are linked to cancer, hormone problems and reproductive ailments.

  • Hydrogen Sulphide: a gas linked to damage of immune systems, respiratory problems and chemical sensitivity.

  • Formaldehyde and Acetaldehyde: hundreds of tonnes of these cancer causing by-products are released into air and water yearly.

How do we know what comes out?

We must primarily rely on self reporting by the mills to provincial and federal agencies.

The Reach for Unbleached! publication Monitoring Pulp and Paper Mills has more details on what is monitored and what is missing.

Reach for Unbleached! has compiled data from public sources on what pollution comes out, and in what quantities in BC.

The Crofton Airshed has been the subject of reports both from company consultants and those working with Reach for Unbleached and the Crofton Airshed Citizens' Group. These reports contain some information.

Reach for Unbleached has worked with citizens to do some volunteer monitoring, which showed some interesting results.

Here are some other good sources that anyone can use to research pollution from their local mill.

  • Pollution Watch: This valuable tool allows you to search by a particular pollutant, by a specific mill, or by geographical region. It has incredibly useful charts on the relative pollution impacts from various facilities and can be sorted by type of health effect.

  • National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI): Environment Canada gets reports on certain chemicals every year. Some are estimates and others actual measurements.


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