The Canadian Health Measures Survey: How Our National Biomonitoring Survey Helps Us Stay Healthy

Every day, Canadians are exposed to a mix of natural and manufactured chemicals from the environment, consumer products, food, and drinking water. The health effects of some of these chemicals, and mixtures of chemicals, are not yet fully understood. To understand potential health impacts and allow Canadians and their government to make informed decisions about their health, Health Canada works with Statistics Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada to conduct the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS), an important part of the Government’s plan to reduce the risks posed by chemicals to Canadians and their environment.

You may recognize Statistics Canada as being the national office that provides us with a wide variety of data about Canadians: everything from household incomes to how many of us are vegetarian or vegan. For the CHMS, Statistics Canada does not collect data from each individual Canadian, but uses a sample specially designed to represent about 96% of the general population. Since this sample is highly representative, it can be generalized at the national level, and broken down by age group, and sex.

To date, more than 29,000 Canadians between the ages of three and 79 have participated at 81 sites across the country, providing biological samples such as blood, urine and hair. These samples can be used to determine how much of a chemical is present in the body - this kind of data collection and analysis is called biomonitoring.

The results from the CHMS biomonitoring analysis provide a detailed overview of Canadians’ exposure to environmental chemicals from many different sources, such as indoor and outdoor air, soil, dust, water, food and/or potential exposures from products used frequently by consumers, such as cosmetics and health products. For the ten years that Health Canada has been collecting human biomonitoring data, more than 270 environmental chemicals have been measured and the data have been used in more than 400 publications.

The CHMS allows us to track our exposure to environmental chemicals and detect how it is changing over time. Since the CHMS is representative of Canada’s population, it can also help us identify which sub-populations may have more exposure to certain chemicals, based on their region, age, and sex.

Since Canada has its own national biomonitoring survey, it allows researchers to compare Canada’s biomonitoring data to those of other countries. Canadians’ unique industrial environment, chemical product use, and dietary habits differ from other countries, and even vary widely between Canadians in different provinces.

Because the CHMS tracks Canadians’ exposure to environmental chemicals in such detail and over time, researchers can use the information to determine the effectiveness of regulations on chemicals and chemical products.

For example, once exposure to lead was discovered to be harmful, the Government of Canada limited the concentration of lead permitted in products like gasoline and paint. With these regulations in effect, biomonitoring data have demonstrated a decline of over 80% in blood lead levels since the 1970s.

Biomonitoring data collected as part of the CHMS is a highly reliable indicator that the Government will continue to use to evaluate the effectiveness of regulations it puts in place to protect Canadians’ health from environmental chemicals.

Information from the CHMS allows us to make timely decisions about how to best manage the complex mixture of chemicals Canadians are exposed to in their daily lives through the environment, products, food and drinking water and at work.

A summary of CHMS biomonitoring data is available and free through the Open Government portal and the CHMS biomonitoring site. The complete dataset is available to Canadian university researchers through the Canadian Research Data Centre Network.

For more on biomonitoring, visit Canada.ca/biomonitoring. More information, including actions the Government has taken to protect the health of Canadians, can be found in Health Canada’s Fourth Report on Human Biomonitoring of Environmental Chemicals and by searching individual chemicals by name on Canada.ca.

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