Consultation document on risk management options for lead wheel weights: chapter 2

2.1. Environmental and Health Effects Associated with Lead

Lead is a naturally occurring element found in rock and soil, yet widespread anthropogenic use has resulted in an increase of exposure for Canadians. Lead is found in all environmental media, as well as in food and drinking water and some consumer products, and is linked to risks to human health and the environment. Lead is currently subject to numerous federal, provincial, territorial and industrial risk management initiatives. Lead is on the List of Toxic Substances of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999).

Risks to human health include developmental, neurodevelopmental, neurodegenerative, cardiovascular, renal and reproductive effects. Known environmental hazards include toxicity to birds, fish and crustaceans in the water column, benthic invertebrates in sediments as well as plants and earthworms in soil. An assessment of the most current scientific information on lead was undertaken by Health Canada in the Final Human Health State of the Science Report on Lead, which was published in February 2013. The State of Science Report determined that:

  • Canadians are exposed to lead through food, drinking water, air, dust, soil and consumer products;
  • Although blood lead levels have declined significantly over the last 30 years, lead is still widely detected in Canadians; and
  • Health effects are observed at levels below the current Canadian blood intervention level of 10 μg/dL.

2.2. Risk Management Strategy for Lead

In February 2013, Health Canada published a Risk Management Strategy for Lead, which outlined the current and planned control actions for lead. Under the Strategy, the Government of Canada has committed to further reducing lead exposure to the greatest extent practicable, by strengthening current efforts in priority areas identified in the Strategy. In order to achieve this objective, the Government of Canada intends to focus efforts and resources on reducing lead exposure in areas that will make the greatest difference for population health over the long term.

One of the priority areas is the release of lead from consumer products such as wheel weights. For this specific consumer product, the Government of Canada has committed “To investigate the need for actions to encourage the use of alternatives to lead wheel weights in Canada.”

The proposed risk management options for lead wheel weights intend to fulfill this commitment by encouraging the use of alternatives in conjunction with a gradual phase-out of lead wheel weights in the Canadian market.

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