UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Children's environmental health : a comparison of risk assessment approaches taken by Canada, the United States and the European Union Kinney, Elizabeth M.


Children come into contact with environmental pollutants on a daily basis. Air pollution, pesticides, chemicals, and lead are a few of the toxic substances which are transferred to children through water, air, soil, food, and skin contact. Exposure to these substances has been linked to a variety of child chronic health conditions, including spontaneous abortions, congenital defects, neurodevelopmental disorders, reproductive dysfunctions, endocrine dysfunction, and cancers. Because of this, governments have the responsibility to restrict exposures to these substances to ensure that intake is not unsafe. Governments have utilized a risk assessment process to determine what levels of exposure are considered safe. The interpretation of the results of this process, however, has differed depending on which theory has been selected – the risk-based approach or the hazard-based approach. The risk-based approach attempts to avoid unacceptable risks through the quantification of exposure and harm. The hazard-based approach, aims to avoid exposures that result in significant harm and minimize all other exposures. The difference between the two is that the risk-based approach is focused on controlling the risk while the hazard-based approach completely removes the most caustic substances. This thesis explores the impact the selected risk assessment approach may have on tolerances and standards set for children’s exposures to environmental pollutants. The thesis will examine two case studies: (1) pesticide standards and (2) chemical standards. The United States and Canada have chosen to use a risk-based approach to determine acceptable risks from exposure. The European Union has utilized a hazard-based approach to set permissible exposure levels. This thesis will argue that the hazard-based approach is preferable for children’s health and protection. Since there are a great many unknowns regarding how toxic exposure impacts children’s health it is safer to avoid those chemicals which may negatively affect children’s health rather than attempt to control the risk at a “safe” level. The thesis will: (1) present information on what is known about health and toxic exposure, (2) illustrate that international efforts have failed to address environmental health, (3) discuss the differences between the two approaches to pesticide and chemical policies, and (4) provide policy recommendations.

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