Current Problems

Health (18-24)

Environmentalists push the federal government on complete ban on ‘forever chemicals’

February 28, 2024

‘Our health is being compromised,’ says Inuk health research advisor.

forever chemicals

Lucy Grey at the news conference on Parliament Hill Wednesday. Photo: Kerry Slack/APTN. 

APTN News: Health officials and scientists are calling on the federal government to issue a complete ban on substances known as “forever chemicals.”

These chemicals, officially called PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances—are part of what makes non-stick cookware, grease-resistant food packaging, cosmetics, sealants, varnishes and waterproof clothing.

These PFAS while making products water, stain and grease-resistant come at a cost, says the group. According to the federal government, there are 4,700 different kinds of PFAS.

Lucy Grey, public health Inuit research advisor with the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, joined other environmentalists and researchers at a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday.

“Inuit children are born with PFAS already in their bodies. They accumulate in the body just from practicing their ancient lifestyle. The federal government has a fiduciary responsibility entrenched in the Constitution. It is duty-bound to protect the inherent rights of the Inuit. It has a responsibility to protect. The federal government has to regulate PFAS because they have a duty to protect us Inuit.

“Research has proven that we have much higher levels of PFAS than the southern Canadian population,” said Grey. “Our health is being compromised, our traditional diet is being compromised, as well as our well-being and health.

“Our traditional diet is ancient, it’s highly nutritious, and it’s cheaper than imported southern foods and we have a right to practice food sovereignty, especially with the high food insecurity faced by northern populations.”

Forever chemicals are toxic at even at extremely low levels (i.e. parts per quadrillion), posing significant risks to human health according to the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental health. They’re called “forever chemicals because they are nearly indestructible.

According to an article by the Canada Environment Law Association, the impacts include, “reproductive effects such as decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women; developmental effects or delays in children, including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, and behavioral changes; increased risk of some cancers, including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers; reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response; and increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity.”

These “forever chemicals” are almost impossible to avoid and are found in homes, offices and supermarkets. They don’t break down in the environment or in the body.

“The longer we wait to phase out PFAS, the bigger this toxic legacy becomes,” said Cassie Barker, senior program manager for Toxics and Environmental Defence.

‘Forever chemicals’ in the North

“PFA are making people sick, “said Barker. “Northern Indigenous people are particularly impacted by PFAS. There should be no place for forever chemicals in our future. Scientists want this government to follow through on the science-based approach and list the entire class of chemicals as toxic and strengthen proposed regulations to ban PFAS and products.”

From raincoats to yoga pants, PFAS are widely used in clothing, shoes, and accessories, these chemicals cause pollution at every stage of production, according to the NRDC in New York.

PFAS-treated apparel that is washed and eventually dumped in landfills or incinerated leaks “forever chemicals” into the environment at the end of its life cycle as well according to the NRDC.

The Canadian government currently regulates similar chemicals under the Prohibition of Certain Toxic Substances Regulations, 2012 (the Prohibition Regulations).

On Feb. 10, 2023, Health Canada released its draft objective to reduce PFAS in drinking water from 1,000 parts per trillion [ppt] to 30 ppt.  Currently drinking water quality standards are screening values of 9 ppt according to the Canadian Environmental Law Association.

According to Health Canada, “Current data we have on PFAS in Canadian freshwater and drinking water are limited. The data we do have suggests that the PFAS are present across Canada at levels generally below the proposed objective. [But] The concentration of PFAS in freshwater and drinking water may be higher near: facilities that use large amounts of these chemicals, locations where fire-fighting foams containing PFAS were used to put out a fire, landfills, and wastewater treatment plants.”

A study out of The University of Winnipeg confirms that PFAS have been transported to the Arctic via the atmosphere and ocean currents from industrialized areas.

Once in the Arctic environment, they reach animals such as ringed seals, toothed whales, and polar bears. This new study shows that the Indigenous population are consuming these top predators that contain high PFAS concentrations.

“Our findings, together with those of colleagues around the world working to understand PFAS pollution, confirm that PFAS are distributed globally in humans and wildlife, and often reach levels that should raise some alarm bells regarding possible negative health effects,” said Jean-Pierre Desforges, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Winnipeg in the study.

PFAS, like other persistent organic pollutants (POPs), don’t break down readily in the environment and therefore can be transported over long distances by air and water to remote regions far from original sources of release in industrial and urbanized regions.

“Our study confirms that PFASs are ubiquitous around the world. The paper compares Greenland Inuit PFAS [forever chemicals] blood levels to other populations around the world, and we find that consumption of traditional foods, particularly polar bear and ringed seal, results in some of the highest “established toxic thresholds.”

“Altogether, our work hopefully can contribute to global efforts to curb PFAS pollution and encourage international efforts to tackle chemical pollution issues,” said Desforges.

Grey said that’s why the group is calling for a complete ban.

“PFAS need to be regulated for its entire class to protect our health and our source of food,” said Grey. “We haven’t seen any benefits. We carry all the risk, and industry should not have free reign to dump these chemicals. They make their way to the Arctic —and stay there.”

“Our way of life should not be compromised to benefit a few corporations’ quarterly reports.”

APTN News reached out to the federal minister of environment, Stephen Guilbault but did not hear back before this article was published.

Contribute Button

Continue Reading

‘Smug, cocky and arrogant’: Saskatchewan inquest hears of mass kille…


Kerry Slack,