Lead contamination in Toronto’s tap water

Researchers have extensively studied the toxic metal and linked it to a range of adverse health effects, especially in children and infants where “the physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Within this vulnerable population exposure has been connected to learning disabilities, slowed growth, behavioural problems and anemia.

Data retrieved from testing samples shows that only one region of the city has lead concentrations exceeding the maximum acceptable limit set by the Ministry of Environment. That threshold is 10 parts per billion (ppb), and the average reading from the Danforth area was nearly double: 19.4 ppb. 28 samples were analyzed from the region bounded by Don Mills Road and the GO rail tracks to the north and south, and Pape and Coxwell Avenues to the west and east.

Water Concentration

Prior to the mid-1950s, water pipes servicing homes were typically made of the soft metal. It was also used to solder pipes together before 1990. In 2011 Toronto’s city council approved the Lead in Drinking Water Mitigation Strategy aimed at lowering exposure levels for residents.

It’s important to note that the city’s lead testing program is non-regulated, and staff have little control over how or where a sample is obtained. Testing kits can be picked up and dropped off by residents, free of charge, at one of six Toronto Public Health locations across the city.

Sexually transmitted infections across Toronto: Chlamydia at a 10-year high

There were nearly 10,000 new cases of chlamydia diagnosed in Toronto in 2014, the most recent year where complete datasets were available. The infection is easily transmitted and was the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection (STI) across the city.

The increase is due in part to better laboratory testing according to Toronto Public Health. “It is likely that these tests are picking up infections that would not have been detected with earlier generation tests,” said Dr. Rita Shahin, Toronto’s Associate Medical Officer of Health.

She adds that chlamydia is so common because it often remains symptomless, leading to a greater likelihood that those infected will spread the disease to others.

STI rates in Toronto are high compared to other jurisdictions.

Gonorrhea is the second most common sexually transmitted infection in the city, and over the years doctors have come across a small number of drug-resistant cases.

The majority of these have been seen in men who have sex with men, and the disease is “generally able to be treated with combinations of antibiotics,” said Dr. Shahin. But health officials in other countries have expressed concerns that drug-resistant gonorrhea could become untreatable.

(Chlamydia rates across Toronto)

When looking at the distribution of new cases of STIs across Toronto denser pockets of infection emerge throughout the city’s 140 neighbourhoods. Rates of chlamydia in 2014 were higher in the city’s northwest corner – near Downsview, Jane and Finch and York University – and downtown.

“There is some correlation between higher STI rates and lower socioeconomic status that would help explain the geographic distribution of chlamydia rates,” said Dr. Shahin. One study for the National Centre for Biotechnology Information found that “lower income is associated with less access to preventative information and healthcare, and increased use of sex as a psychosocial coping mechanism.”

(Hepatitis B rates across Toronto)

Infection rates of hepatitis B were higher in the Steeles/Milliken area and Kensington – Chinatown. Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection that can increase the risk of organ failure and cancer.

“The higher number of cases in the northeast of the city is likely due to a combination of factors, including immigration and settlement patterns,” said Dr. Shahin. Essentially people are arriving from locations where the virus is more common.

In general there were higher rates of sexually transmitted infections in the Yonge – Church corridor, an area that encloses Toronto’s “gay village”.

(Gonorrhea rates across Toronto)

(Hepatitis C rates across Toronto)

STI rates are generally higher among men who are sexually active with other men, but “contrary to popular belief, gay men do not have more sex than others,” said Dr. David Brennan, associate professor at the University of Toronto and Ontario HIV Treatment Network Research Chair in Gay and Bisexual Men’s Health. “Most of the research in this area has shown that they may have slightly more partners over a lifetime but the numbers are so much smaller that they are not statistically significant.”

Rates of STIs are higher in the gay community because the pool of potential partners is much smaller. “Given that estimates of gay people run from two to ten per cent of the population, then when you consider that a gay man might have sex with another gay man, they are part of a smaller pool of people,” said Dr. Brennan. “Once an STI (such as HIV) is introduced into that smaller pool of gay men in the population, then there is a much greater risk that they will come into contact with it.”

In 2014, the rate of new HIV cases was highest in Cabbagetown – South St. James Town. There were 14 new infections within a population of 12,060, which is one in every 861 people. HIV infections overall have fallen across the city from 569 in 2004 to 407 in 2014.

(HIV rates across Toronto)

With respect to chlamydia and gonorrhea, officials at Toronto Public Health believe the impact from improved lab testing has likely plateaued, but Dr. Shahin says it’s very difficult to predict whether infection rates will rise or fall. “There are many factors that affect STI rates including condom use, testing behaviours, number of sexual partners, and increased use of online apps.”

Recently within Toronto’s gay community there has been growing interest in the use of PrEP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis). “PrEP is the use of Truvada, a drug used to treat someone who is HIV-positive, by men who are HIV-negative,” explained Dr. Brennan. “If they take this medication before possibly being exposed to HIV and then continue to take it afterward, their chances of HIV infection are very low.”

This has led to some abandoning condom use, and Truvada does not protect against other STIs. Toronto Public Health says because the use of PrEP is still relatively new, there is no data suggesting it is contributing to a rise in other infections; however, one study out of the US did confirm that finding.

“There was a big study out of San Francisco that showed that among guys who were using PrEP, there were spikes in other STIs like syphilis and gonorrhea,” said Dr. Brennan.

To curtail the spread of infection Toronto Public Health has, among other things, engaged in a large social media campaign to promote safe sex and responsible behaviour.

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The city has even created its own branded condom, condomTO, meant to “reinvigorate and normalize condom use, and combat sexual shame and stigma,” according to Dr. Shahin.

“The response has been very positive,” she said. Condoms still remain one of the most effective tools to protect against sexually transmitted infections.

These are the 25 “worst” countries in the world

Though there will likely be little debate about the countries that made the list, because of the negative connotations of the superlative “worst” I’ve chosen to use the phrase “least livable” based on the indicators chosen by MSN.com to compile the list:

  • GNI per capita: the dollar value of a country’s final annual income divided by the population. It reflects the average income of a country’s residents.
  • Percentage of residents with at least some high school education
  • Life expectancy

All but two of the 25 countries are in Africa, including the one which topped the list: Niger. The nation has a population of 18.5 million and the average life expectancy within its borders is only 61.4 years – likely because there is only 1 doctor for every 50,000 residents in the country (physician density).

The country’s military is currently gripped in violent conflict with Boko Haram, which has escalated its attacks since March. According to reports the group’s campaign of violence has “killed at least 17,000 people and made more than 2.6 million others homeless.”

Citizens and commerce also battle the region’s climate: Arid conditions, including extended droughts, routinely suffocate the country’s agrarian and subsistence-based economy.

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world with minimal government services and insufficient funds to develop its resource base. (CIA World Factbook)

After winning independence from France in 1960, the country was under single-party military rule until 1991. When public pressure finally brought about democratic reform, political infighting led to a coup in 1996.

There would be at least two more similar political upheavals which led to the suspension of the constitution and dissolution of parliament in February of 2010.