Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers
 
 

 

 

Detroit Free Press
1 February 2003

CDC releases vast chemical study

Data may explain how common agents affect human body

By Wendy Wendland-Bowyer

The largest study ever done on troublesome chemicals that slip into the bodies of American children and adults from everyday items like food, shampoo, nail polish and teething rings was released Friday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report examined 116 chemicals measured in the blood and urine of some 2,500 Americans in 1999-2000. Nearly all of the chemicals have been found to be toxic in animal studies, but little is known about their effects on humans.

With cancer, attention deficit disorder, asthma and other ailments on the rise -- often for unknown reasons -- some hope the data will be a starting point to learn more about how chemicals interact with the human body.

"Better information about people's exposure means better decisions to protect public health," said Dr. Richard Jackson, CDC director of the National Center for Environmental Health. The report is called the Second National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. The first report was released in 2001 and examined 27 chemicals. The CDC plans to continue the reports every other year.

Michigan officials hope the CDC will approve a similar test of the state's residents. The state received a $200,000 CDC grant last year to plan how a similar study could be done here, said Frances Pouch Downes, director of Michigan's public health laboratory. If Michigan is approved, its residents would be tested for more than 20 substances, including arsenic, mercury and PBBs, a fire retardant that ended up in the state's food supply in the 1970s.

For Friday's report, the CDC measured environmental tobacco smoke by tracing cotinine, a byproduct of nicotine. The report showed cotinine declined in children and adults in the 1990s, but children and adolescents continued to have twice as much of the substance as adults. Black people have twice the level of whites.

Lead poisoning also is declining. Nationally, about 434,000 children between the ages of 1 and 5 have 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, said Pam Meyer, a health scientist with the CDC's Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch. That's about 2.2 percent of thatpopulation.The new CDC estimate is higher than a preliminary one given to the Free Press this month that put the number at 300,000.

What's expected to draw the most attention is new data for chemicals like phthalates, a softening substance added to many products. Teething rings, shampoo, plastic bags, nail polish and vinyl tubing may have it. The CDC found one type of phthalates more common in children, another in adults. Phthalates testing in animals showed a link to reproductive problems.

One problem is the U.S. government does not require companies to test many chemicals in products before putting them on the market, said Jane Houlihan, vice president for research with the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group.

"We know from polling that Americans think the government requires companies to test their products before putting them on the market," Houlihan said. "That is just not true."

The Environmental Working Group conducted its own chemical analysis of nine volunteers. Pictures of the volunteers, along with the chemicals found in their bodies, are at www.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden.

Some industry representatives say the public should be cautious in drawing hasty conclusions from the CDC report.

Chemicals "are associated with benefits to society whether it's in plastics to make cars more fuel efficient or plastics used in emergency rooms to save lives or pesticides that contribute to a safe and abundant food supply," said Jay Vroom, president of CropLife America, which represents pesticide makers.

Vroom said pesticides have permitted farmers to dramatically increase food production. Today pesticides undergo about 120 tests that take about 10 years to complete, he said.

But environmentalists stress such testing is not the norm for many other products. Tracey Easthope of the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor said the nation needs to learn from the past.

Health reports from as far back as the early 1920s showed health dangers associated with lead. Yet lead continued to be used in paint and gasoline for decades before enough research was compiled to show that it can cause irreversible health problems when it enters the blood stream.

"We think the finding of chemicals in people's bodies is enough to take action to reduce exposure to those chemicals," Easthope said. Read the CDC report at www.cdc.gov/exposurereport, or call 866-670-6052, 9-5:30 weekdays for a free copy.

 
     
     

 

 

 

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