Newcomer women from South and East Asia invited to participate in a health study

Bollywood star Rekha with ‘sindoor.’
Bollywood star Rekha with ‘sindoor.’

NEWCOMER women of reproductive age are invited to participate in a new health study about their environmental exposures to developmental toxicants such as lead and mercury.

The Study of Newcomer Women and Developmental Toxicants (SEED) is conducted by environmental health researchers at the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC). The SEED study will explore whether, how, and how much reproductive-age women from South and East Asia who are new to BC, are exposed to and incorporate developmental toxicants through food, everyday household work, cultural practices and hobbies.

Heavy metals like mercury, lead and cadmium can be found in low levels in a variety of products and foods. These include some freshwater and large predatory ocean fish, organ meats and oysters, imported ayurvedic treatments, traditional Chinese medicines, candies, personal care items, and cinnabar, which is used in vermillion paint (sindoor) by Indo-Canadian women to indicate their married status. Regular exposure to the heavy metals in these products and foods over time can lead them to build up in a woman’s body.

Two in five Greater Vancouver residents are immigrants, and nearly one-third arrived within the last decade, with 70% of recent immigrants with origins in Asia. Adult women born outside Canada tend to have a higher level of reproductive and developmental toxicants in their bodies than women born in Canada. Studies have shown that both Asian women and their children may be at higher risk for exposure to mercury. Toxicants can pass from mother to fetus, potentially leading to slowed growth and neurodevelopment in the child.

The SEED study will assess newcomer women’s blood and urine for levels of mercury, lead and cadmium and other developmental toxicants. If toxins are found to be of concern, the study will also aim to find the best ways to lower them. Reducing levels of toxins in pregnant and looking-to-become pregnant newcomer women will help prevent future health risks passed to children during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Women are eligible to participate if they:

* are 19 to 45 years old

* arrived in Canada one to five years ago directly from India, China, Taiwan or Hong Kong

* are either less than 16 weeks pregnant or have not been pregnant for at least the past eight months and are not breastfeeding

* speak English, Punjabi, Hindi, Mandarin, or Cantonese

* live in the Greater Vancouver area, including Abbotsford

Participation in the study involves completing a 1.5 hour in-person survey about one’s health, diet, everyday product use, and exposures. A urine and blood sample will also be collected. Participants will receive $50 and will be sent their personal blood toxicant results. If a woman’s toxicants levels are found to be of concern, a study physician will offer guidance to her and her health care provider on how to interpret and lower toxicant exposures and tissue levels.

Newcomer women, health care providers, and community organizations who serve newcomer women are invited to contact the study by phone at 604-707-2529 (in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Punjabi, and Hindi) or e-mail at Visit to learn more.

Led by environmental health researchers at BCCDC, the project is a collaboration with Fraser Health, Vancouver Coastal Health, Health Canada, the University of Toronto, and Toronto Public Health, with funding from Health Canada, BCCDC, and the BC Ministry of Health.

The BC Centre for Disease Control, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, provides provincial and national leadership in public health through surveillance, detection, treatment, prevention and consultation services. The Centre provides both direct diagnostic and treatment services for people with diseases of public health importance and analytical and policy support to all levels of government and health authorities.