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Contaminants and Hazards


Identifying hazards posed by infectious diseases, chemicals, radiation, and noise, in homes and personal service establishments.

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Naturally Occurring Asbestos in an Outdoor Setting

Primary inquiry: Heavy rains caused a river to flood and overflow its banks. Soil containing naturally occurring asbestos (NOA) was deposited onto the surrounding land. This land is used for farming, and includes the backyards of private dwellings and areas used for various recreational pursuits. What are the potential public health risks from exposure to NOA in these outdoor settings? What...

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Cleanup Instructions for Small Mercury Spills - revised

Exposure to the small amount of mercury found in common household devices, such as fever thermometers, thermostats, or fluorescent light bulbs, is not likely to cause serious health problems. Humans are frequently exposed to greater quantities of mercury, much of it methylmercury, through diet. Nevertheless, all mercury spills, regardless of quantity, should be treated seriously and cleaned up ...

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Summary: Animals as Sentinels for Public Health Risks from Oil and Gas Development

This document was based on a contracted review: Animals as Sentinels for Public Health Risks Associated with Oil and Gas Development by Craig Stephen and Tyler Stitt, March 2014.

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Fact Sheet: Non-pharmaceutical measures to prevent the transmission of influenza

This fact sheet is for public health professionals. It provides a brief overview on specific non-pharmaceutical measures to be used in community settings. Such measures can prevent the spread of influenza by interrupting the transfer of viruses from objects or people through the use of personal protective equipment or changes to behaviour. The content is primarily based on the NCCID article “Non...

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Environmental Risk Factors for Community-Acquired MRSA

Community-acquired methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA) is endemic in North America. In contrast to MRSA acquired in hospital settings, CA-MRSA is present in a wide variety of environments including health care settings outside of hospitals and animal care settings, beaches and recreational waters, athletic facilities, spas and saunas. The risk of infection from environmental...

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NCCEH Mould Investigation Toolkit

Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) and Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) across Canada have different responsibilities, policies, and guidelines when it comes to investigating public inquiries about mould in indoor environments. Some PHIs/EHOs conduct initial walkthroughs only, some conduct comprehensive investigations, and others educate the public about next steps without conducting any field...

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Health Effects of Oil Spills and Implications for Public Health Planning and Research

Two major pipeline projects have been proposed to transport petroleum products from Alberta to the British Columbian coast. Despite potential economic benefits, these proposals have roused widespread public concern regarding the health and ecological consequences of a major marine or terrestrial spill. In Metro Vancouver, the Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion will triple the volume of petroleum...

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Effectiveness of Alternative Antimicrobial Agents for Disinfection of Hard Surfaces - revised

A review of alternative antimicrobial agents reveals the need for standardized methodology for efficacy testing as well as considerations of toxicity, safety, cost, ease of use, availability, storage, and application-specific testing. The appropriateness of alternative antimicrobial agents, such as vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda appear to be limited for commercial disinfection or...

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Mould Assessment Recommendations - revised

Excessive dampness and mould growth on building material surfaces and contents can pose health risks and should not be tolerated in indoor environments. A mould assessment determines if mould is present, but does not determine or estimate mould exposure. Health-based exposure limits for indoor mould in residential environments have not been established; inspecting for visible and hidden mould,...

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Mould Remediation Recommendations - revised

Excessive dampness and mould growth on building material surfaces and contents can pose health risks and should not be tolerated in indoor environments. The main goal of remediation is to reduce the risk of exposure to mould and to prevent structural damage; the underlying cause of dampness must be identified and eliminated or mould will reappear. Effective mould remediation requires the ...

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Health Effects from Mould Exposure in Indoor Environments - revised

Moulds are naturally occurring and widespread in the environment; therefore, it is not possible to eliminate exposure. Sufficient evidence exists to conclude that exposure to mould in indoor environments is associated with asthma and asthma-like symptoms (in asthmatic people), upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough and wheeze, and hypersensitivity pneumonitis in susceptible people. There is...

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Cleaning, disinfection, and sterilization at PSEs - revised*

Health concerns regarding the transmission of infections at personal service establishments (PSEs) are often mitigated by public health inspectors (environmental health officers). Inspection of PSEs are carried out to ensure that premises have adequate cleaning, disinfection, and sterilization protocols to reduce the risk of transmitting pathogens such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV),...

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Infections Associated with Personal Service Establishments: Piercing and Tattooing

Piercing and tattooing are associated with bacterial and viral infections, typically localized to the pierced or tattooed site. Individuals with pre-existing heart conditions are at risk of developing infective endocarditis, a systemic infection involving the outer lining of the heart, when obtaining invasive procedures, such as piercing and tattooing. There is a lack of published literature on...

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Surveillance for Emerging Infectious Diseases: A Canadian Perspective (UBC Bridge Program)

Surveillance approaches for emerging zoonotic infectious diseases is less well developed than for traditional clearly-defined diseases. Zoonotic diseases with recent implications in Canada include: influenza, West Nile Virus (WNV), Lyme Disease (LD), Hantavirus Pulmonary Disease (HPS), and food-borne zoonoses, with influenza having the greatest human impact. Emerging zoonotic disease (EZD)...

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Infections Associated with Personal Service Establishments: Aesthetics

Bacterial infections, particularly mycobacterium infections, are most commonly reported for aesthetic services while viral infections are less reported. No studies associating fungal infections with personal service establishments (PSE) services were found. Limited evidence is available for some infection risks services, including manicures, hair styling, and barbering. Studies related to...

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Household Pets and Zoonoses (University of Guelph Master of Public Health Program)

In addition to dogs and cats, the popularity of exotic animals, such as geckos, bearded dragons, and African Dwarf Frogs is increasing; the greatest increase is ownership among children. It is estimated that approximately 75% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. The implications of these two trends are of concern to the public health community. A review was conducted of household pet...

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One Health: A Primer (University of Guelph Master of Public Health Program)

Public health events are best dealt with in an interdisciplinary manner with many actors and agencies involved, each lending their expertise to solve the complex problem. Many examples exist of agencies working across boundaries to solve significant public health issues, but the examples are less frequent of agencies that work cross-disciplines. It is not a matter of desire, but one of tradition...

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Tanning and Skin Cancer: A Brief Review (UBC Bridge Program)

The prevalence of intentional solar tanning in Canada ranges from 4 to 49% depending on age and sex. The prevalence of tanning using artificial tanning devices in Canada ranges from 4 to 27% depending on age and sex. Both solar and artificial tanning are much more frequent in younger persons and in females. Although both solar and artificial ultraviolet radiation is categorized as a human...

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Potential Human Health Effects of Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs) (UBC Bridge Program)

Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), including perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), are stain, water and grease repellent chemicals found in a wide range of consumer products. Almost everyone has detectable levels of PFOS, PFOA, and other PFCs in their blood. Although levels of PFOS and PFOA in human serum have declined in the US and Europe over the past decade, levels...

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Residential Use of Wood-Burning Appliances in Canada

This report summarizes information on woodsmoke emissions and health effects associated with woodsmoke exposures from residential wood-burning (RWB) in Canada and provides a qualitative indication of the potential effectiveness of different intervention strategies based on a review of the available literature and interviews with Canadian health authorities. The purpose of this report is to...

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Waxing Promising Practices Fact Sheet

Waxing can draw blood and body fluid from the skin. If this occurs, there is a potential to transmit viral, bacterial, and fungal infectionsbetween the technician and the client, as well as between clients. Folliculitis (infection of the hair follicle), irritant dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and general skin irritation can also occur. These health risks can be minimized by using proper...

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Effective Interventions to Reduce Indoor Radon Levels

Radon represents one of the environmental exposures that can be reduced with effective and practical solutions, reducing an individual’s risk of developing lung cancer. There is extensive literature supporting the cost-effectiveness of radon abatement compared with other healthcare and environmental interventions. Of the remediation measures evaluated to reduce indoor radon levels in already...

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Residential Indoor Radon Testing

Radon is a known carcinogen, and is estimated to cause up to 10% of all lung cancers in Canada. It is a radioactive gas that is produced by the decay of uranium. Radon is naturally occurring, and emanates from soil and rocks. It percolates up through soil into buildings, and if it is not evacuated there can be much higher exposure levels indoors than outdoors. Fortunately, high radon levels can...

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Growing at Home: Health and Safety Concerns for Personal Cannabis Cultivation

Personal cultivation as described by the proposed Cannabis Act (2017) will permit adults to cultivate up to four cannabis plants per household. This provision is intended to both promote equity by facilitating access to legal cannabis, particularly when retail outlets are difficult to access, and to undercut the black market. However, indoor cultivation and processing of cannabis may also...

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Odour from a Compost Facility

Primary inquiry: A citizen’s group reported that putrid smells were occurring daily from a local commercial compost facility located in a suburban area of the city. The local public health agency was contacted to provide information to answer the following questions: What types of contaminants are potentially emitted in air from commercial composting facilities? What causes odours associated...

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Meat-packing Pads as Tattoo Dressings

Primary inquiry: Is there evidence for or against the use of clean vs. sterile dressings in the care of tattoos?

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Adverse effects after medical, commercial, or self-administered colon cleansing procedures

Primary inquiry: What information is available regarding the environmental health-related risks of colonics in the academic literature, and how can environmental health practitioners help reduce these risks?

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Infection Control for Tebori Tattooing

Primary inquiry: Information regarding tebori, a traditional form of Japanese “hand-poke” tattooing; requesting information regarding infection control and inspection.

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Cemetery Setback Distances to Prevent Surface Water Contamination

Primary inquiry: In Canada, as in many other countries, cemeteries are required to be setback a certain distance from waterbodies to protect drinking water sources from contaminated liquids that can arise from the decomposition of bodies after burial. What is recommended as a safe setback distance? What is the rationale for the setback distances used throughout Canada?

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Irrigating Food Crops with Water Containing Cyanobacteria Blooms

Primary inquiry: Small horticulture growers have been watering their crops with surface water containing a cyanobacterial bloom, before selling their crops at local markets. Can irrigation of food crops using surface water affected by cyanobacteria blooms result in bioaccumulation of cyanotoxins in these crops? Can cyanotoxins bioaccumulate to a concentration that might cause a public health...

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Cyanobacteria in Freshwater

What are cyanobacteria? Are cyanoblooms preventable? Who is at risk and how does exposure occur? Is there testing for cyanotoxins? This NCCEH document provides a brief outline of these key questions related to cyanobacteria and the toxins they produce.

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Going Underground: Electrical Substations and Health

Concerned citizens and municipal authorities contacted their public health region about a proposal by an electrical utility company to build an underground electrical substation in an urban area, near to an elementary school and playground. 1. Background – substations and electromagnetic fields2. Literature search3. What are the health implications of exposure to ELF magnetic fields?4. What is...

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Using a Hierarchy of Evidence to Assess Chemical Health Risks of Artificial Turf

Over the past 40 years, artificial turf has become common in public and private settings. Compared to natural turf, artificial turf is easier to maintain, requires less water and no fertilizer, and provides a year-round access to playing surfaces. This is presumed to have important public health benefits by promoting physical activity and access to recreational space, although detailed research...

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Guide for Implementing the Carbon Monoxide Monitoring and Response Framework in Long-term Care Facilities

This guide is intended for public health practitioners, facility/property maintenance managers, risk managers, occupational hygienists, clinicians, or other persons working at long-term care facilities (residential care facilities, nursing homes, seniors’ residences, care occupancies, etc.) who would like to implement a program to reduce the risk of indoor carbon monoxide (CO) exposure to...

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Float Tanks: Considerations for Environmental Public Health

Floatation refers to a meditative activity in which users float in a high-density Epsom salt solution in a dark, quiet environment. Because float tanks are distinct from swimming pools and other recreational water, questions have been raised regarding the need for and efficacy of various disinfection methods. Although direct evidence is lacking, pathogen kill assays and field studies from...

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Float Tanks: Review of Current Guidance and Considerations for Public Health Inspectors

The growing popularity of “floatation” and the ways in which this practice differs from the use of pools and spas have raised interesting questions in environmental public health. Public health agencies in the US and Canada have taken very different approaches to the classification and regulation (or non-regulation) of these facilities. Continuing engagement amongst environmental health...

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Understanding the Public Health Implications Concerning Shale Gas Production and Hydraulic Fracturing

The intent of this document is to synthesize scientific information related to public health concerns of relevance to Canada about shale gas production (including the pre-production stages of drilling, hydraulic fracturing, and well completion, as well as abandonment). Current policy and regulations are not considered. For the most part, the environmental and public health implications relating...

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Review of Field Tests on Bed Bug Control Technologies

Economic, environmental, and health concerns with bed bug control technologies and management options are of interest to public health and pest management agencies, who often receive and need to respond to inquiries regarding bed bugs (Hemiptera: Cimex). However, control technologies are constantly changing as evidence emerges for evaluating their efficacy/feasibility and acceptance by...

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Phosphine Poisoning as an Unintended Consequence of Bed Bug Treatment

Recent news on Canadian fatalities linked to the inappropriate use of phosphine for bed bug control underlines the need for public health practitioners to be aware of the issue.

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Clandestine Amphetamine-Derived Drug Laboratories: Remediation Guidelines for Residential Settings - revised

Clandestine labs produce illegal substances using a variety of chemicals and manufacturing processes. Clandestine labs can be housed in a variety of structures, including residential and non-residential uildings. In particular, residential buildings previously used for clandestine labs can pose health concerns to re-occupants. Amphetamine-derived drug labs are the most common type of clandestine...

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Increasing Use of Pyrethroids in Canadian Households: Should We Be Concerned?

Pyrethroids are a class of plant-derived insecticides and their man-made analogues that are increasingly applied in Canada as first choice for pest control in many agricultural and residential settings. Their popularity is partly due to their alleged safety compared to the older organochlorine and organophosphate insecticides. Application of pyrethroids is expanding because of recent increases...

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Forest Residues to Energy: Is this a pathway towards healthier communities? (UBC Bridge Program)

Forest residues are non-merchantable woody biomass found in forests and wood waste from logging practices and industrial operations, such as sawmills. Forest residues are a convenient fuel for open-burning and conventional biomass burning systems (e.g., fireplaces and wood stoves), but more recently have been considered as a fuel for advanced wood combustion (AWC) integrated energy systems, used...

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Reducing Residential Indoor Exposure to Pesticides: a Toolkit for Practitioners

The scientific literature indicates that avoidance of pesticide use and alternative practices, such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM), may be effective methods for reducing indoor residential pesticide exposure. Safe use of pesticides, indoors and outdoors, involves following label directions and taking precautionary measures, such as wearing gloves and protective clothing. Track-in and take-...

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Nanotechnology: A Review of Exposure, Health Risks and Recent Regulatory Developments

Nanotechnology is the creation of materials, devices, and systems by controlling matter at the nanometer scale (1-100 billionths of a meter). Potential exposures to engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) through contact with consumer products or air, water, and food sources are an emerging potential threat to human health. ENPs have unique properties and characteristics in addition to size, such as a...

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Disinfectants and Sanitizers for Use on Food Contact Surfaces - revised

Health Canada has approved the sale of disinfectants for food premises which contain chlorine compounds (e.g., bleach), peroxide and peroxyacid mixtures, carboxylic acids, quaternary ammonium compounds, acid anionic, and iodine compounds for use on food-contact surfaces. Disinfectants for use in food premises must have a drug identification number (DIN) and meet criteria, including those...

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Comparison of the prevalence of bacterial enteropathogens, potentially zoonotic bacteria and bacterial resistance to antimicrobials in organic and conventional poultry, swine and beef production

The prevalences of zoonotic and potentially zoonotic bacteria or bacteria resistant to antimicrobials in organic and conventional poultry, swine and beef production were compared using systematic review and meta-analysis methodology. Thirty-eight articles were included in the review. The prevalence of Campylobacter was higher in organic broiler chickens at slaughter, but no difference in...

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Impact of Home Preparation and Cooking Methods on Levels of Dioxin and Dioxin-Like Compounds in Foods

Human exposure to dioxins and dioxin-like compounds (DLCs) is primarily from ingestion of fish, meat, and dairy products. Based on studies where populations were exposed to much higher levels of DLCs than the general population would encounter, some DLCs have been classified as carcinogens/ probable carcinogens.  However, uncertainty remains about the possible adverse health effects from low-...

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Retrospective Surveillance for Drinking Water-Related Illnesses in Canada

Waterborne infections are an important cause of preventable enteric disease. This report obtained information on: characteristics of waterborne disease events (WBEs) in Canada; factors contributing to WBEs; current WBE detection and prevention practices; and, information needs of front-line public health staff. Forty-seven WBEs were identified, the majority occurring prior to 2001. Giardia and...

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Systematic Review of Surveillance Systems for Emerging Zoonotic Diseases

The purpose of this review is to synthesize available evidence for public health practitioners, making decisions in the event of emerging zoonosis, by finding public health surveillance initiatives for emerging zoonosis and seeing what criteria have been used to evaluate these systems. Emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) can be broadly defined as having newly appeared in a population or rapidly...

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Systematic Review of Human Biomonitoring Studies of Environmental Contaminants

This review synthesizes information on biological markers of exposure to environmental contaminants in Canada through a systematic search of the published and grey literature from January 1990 to January 2007, evaluates the studies, and summarizes the information in an easy access format. This review will make the Canadian work on biomonitoring for environmental contaminants more accessible to...

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Chlorination Disinfection By-Products in Drinking Water

The challenge of judging and managing public health risks “caused by” chlorination disinfection by-products (DBPs) in drinking water is likely the most complex issue faced by the drinking water industry in the developed world over the past three decades. Public health professionals must be sure that precautionary efforts in managing DBP risks are never allowed to compromise necessary measures to...

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Does Eating Organic Food Reduce Pesticide Exposures and Health Risks?

Diet is an important source of pesticide exposure, particularly for children, but data are lacking on the amount of pesticides consumed in the diet relative to exposures from other sources. Available data suggest that organically-grown food contains fewer synthetic pesticide residues than conventionally-grown food, and that eating an organic diet can result in lower exposures to some pesticides...

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Church/Community Suppers: What is the Evidence for Risk of Food-borne Illness?

We estimate that 3% to 16% of food-borne outbreaks investigated by public health agencies are associated with community events including church suppers, fairs, potlucks, picnics, etc. However, there is likely under-reporting of individual cases of enteric illness and of small outbreaks related to these events. Poor food handling practices at home and at the site where the food is prepared or...

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Residential Pesticides and Childhood Leukemia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Many Canadian municipalities or provinces have banned or restricted cosmetic pesticide use and other jurisdictions are considering similar bans or facing continuous public pressure for such action. Major public and scientific concerns about pesticides include their potential adverse effects on child health and development. Of the 15 most intensely used pesticides in the U.S. during 2001, five...

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A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Childhood Leukemia and Parental Occupational Pesticide Exposure

Many Canadian municipalities or provinces have banned or restricted cosmetic pesticide use and other jurisdictions are considering similar bans or facing continuous public pressure for such action. Major public and scientific concerns about pesticides include their potential adverse effects on child health and development. Of the 15 most intensely used pesticides in the U.S. during 2001, five...

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When can Point-of-Use Water Filters be used for Removal of Protozoa?

While boiling water is an effective way to kill most microbial pathogens, research performed in the United Kingdom has shown that people do not necessarily comply with boil water advisories. Similarly, in Walkerton, Ontario in 2000, only 44% of respondents reported that they were aware of the order to boil water when it was first issued on the local radio at the start of the outbreak and in...

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Recommendations for Safe Re-occupancy of Marijuana Grow Operations

The following guide offers a practical approach to achieving safe re-occupancy of former marijuana grow operations (MGOs) and reviews possible exposures/hazards (tables 1 and 2). It is essential to make a clear distinction between risks associated with an “active” MGO and risks associated with a “shut down” MGO. An “active” MGO is linked to criminal activity, which in itself poses safety risks,...

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Cellular/Mobile Phone Use and Intracranial Tumours

Cell phone use is increasingly prevalent in Canada. Public concerns of a potential associated risk with intracranial tumours have been raised. Further, recent media attention has focused on disparate precautionary policies implemented across jurisdictions in Canada and world-wide. In light of this and emerging epidemiological evidence, we review what is known about cell phone use and...

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Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs)

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers are a group of commercially produced substances that are used as flame retardants in a wide range of consumer products including television sets, computers, printers, fax machines, carpets, and upholstery. They are structurally related to PCBs and, like PCBs, are produced commercially as mixtures of various chemical configurations, or congeners. Different congeners...

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Radon Testing and Remediation Programs: What Works?

Local, regional, and national health authorities have used a number of approaches to encourage homeowners to test for radon and to implement remediation measures where warranted. Given Health Canada’s new 200 Bq/m3 radon guideline, the time is right to review lessons learned in implementing testing and remediation strategies. While public information does change knowledge and awareness of the...

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Epidemiologic Evidence of Relationships Between Reproductive and Child Health Outcomes and Environmental Chemical Contaminants

This review summarizes the level of epidemiologic evidence for relationships between prenatal and early life exposure to environmental chemical contaminants and fetal, child, and adult health. Discussion focuses on: fetal loss, intrauterine growth restriction, preterm birth, birth defects, respiratory and other childhood diseases, neuropsychological deficits, premature or delayed sexual...

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An Evaluation of Interventions Designed to Reduce Ultraviolet Radiation Exposure

Ultraviolet radiation from sunlight is the main risk factor for the development of skin cancer. This risk factor can be greatly reduced by following responsible sun protection measures and avoiding artificial ultraviolet radiation. This review was conducted to assess the evidence behind interventions aimed at reducing ultraviolet radiation exposure. A literature search was conducted using...

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Carbon Dioxide in Indoor Air

A Public Health Inspector calls about an issue flagged at an older elementary school.  As part of a teacher complaint process, the provincial health and safety agency has been conducting a workplace investigation.  Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels were measured and ranged from 412 ppm in an unoccupied classroom to 1,130 ppm in the school library and 1,660 ppm in an occupied classroom that had closed...

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Pepper Spray in the Indoor Environment and in the Vicinity of Food Products and Preparation Surfaces

Pepper spray is discharged during an attempted robbery of a jewellery store in a large urban mall.  The robbery site is located next to the mall’s food court.  For several days, mall patrons continue to report uncomfortable symptoms (e.g., burning sensation in their eyes and throat) when they enter the food court.  Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) are asked to respond to concerns about...

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Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) - revised

A Public Health Inspector (PHI) has raised a concern about a local middle school with a small, poorly ventilated computer room containing computers over 10 years old. The PHI has read that brominated flame retardants used in computers can affect reproductive health and is concerned about many students and teachers who spend 20-50% of their school week in this room. What is the issue?What are...

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Health Effects of Large LED Screens on Local Residents

In 2011, three high-definition outdoor LED video billboards were erected around a city sports stadium. The residents of the surrounding community are exposed to the lighted images of these screens when they are illuminated. A representative of a community organization advocating to remove the video screens has asked the Chief Medical Health Officer of the local health department whether the...

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Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning

Trigger for Investigation On June 18, 2010 a commercial harvester advised an inspection specialist at CFIA of four cases of suspect PSP-related illness that occurred June 17, 2010. CFIA began an investigation and trace-back and advised relevant public health authorities of illnesses to ensure follow-up of cases. You are the epidemiologist working at the local health authority where the cases...

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