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CDC Offers California $1.7 Million to Jumpstart State Biomonitoring Program

U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi Helps Secure Federal Economic Support for California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 27, 2005 br> Contact: Kevin Donegan, Breast Cancer Fund, (415) 346-8223 x14, kevin@breastcancerfund.org; Hallye Jordan, Office of Sen. Deborah Ortiz, (916) 445-7807

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has offered California a minimum of $1.7 million in training, analyses and technical support to help the state measure levels of toxic chemicals in the bodies of Californians. The data will assist researchers in examining the effect exposure to toxic chemicals has on the incidence of devastating diseases such as asthma and cancer.

The commitment was in response to a request from U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) for a “demonstrated and quantified federal commitment” to support biomonitoring in California.

Tomorrow, the California Assembly Health Committee will consider a bill to establish the “Healthy Californians Biomonitoring Program,” which would measure chemical contaminants in people. Participation in the program would be voluntary. The bill, SB 600, already has passed the state Senate.

The bill’s authors, Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) and Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata (D-Oakland) say the measure would improve public health by tracking trends in chemical exposures, identifying highly exposed and particularly vulnerable communities, assessing the effectiveness of current regulations and setting priorities for legislative and regulatory action.

In a letter dated June 9, CDC Director Julie Louise Gerberding wrote that the agency’s commitment would include:
• Analyzing up to 500 human samples obtained by the state Department of Health Services for a one-time community-based survey. The cost could amount to $3,000 per participant, depending on the number of chemicals analyzed, for a total in-kind support of up to $1.5 million;

• Laboratory analysis of an emerging chemical of concern involving up to 200 participants, with an estimated cost of $110 per sample;

• Training California laboratory technicians to measure levels of arsenic, mercury, lead and multiple trace metals in people; the analytical methods would cover approximately 90 percent of the states inorganic biomonitoring needs, Gerberding wrote, “and would prove useful in the state’s public health response to health investigations and emergencies, including those involving chemical terrorism.” The cost is estimated at $15,000 per person trained; and

• Training laboratory staff in the proper collection, processing and shipping of human samples, estimated at $5,000 per person trained.

“We welcome the CDC’s commitment to help California measure the pollution in people,” said Jeanne Rizzo, executive director of the Breast Cancer Fund, one of the environmental health organizations sponsoring the bill. “Their participation in the creation of the nation’s first statewide biomonitoring program will be of significant economic benefit to California and will help improve worker safety.”

The bill’s other major sponsor is Bolinas, Calif.-based Commonweal. The National Environmental Trust and the California Interfaith Partnership for Children’s Health and the Environment also are leading the effort.

The bill is supported by more than 60 other organizations, including the California Medical Association and the California Nurses Association. In addition, more than 60 leading scientists signed a letter supporting the legislation which they say will “lay the groundwork necessary to better understand hazardous environmental exposures in California.”

According to SB 600, chronic diseases carry enormous costs to California. The estimated total cost of asthma to the state, for example, is $1.27 billion every year.

“This program will enable us to start looking at what’s in our bodies so we can better prevent cancer, birth defects and other chronic illnesses,” said Sharyle Patton, director of Commonweal’s Biomonitoring Center.

If enacted, the legislation would make California the first state in the nation to conduct a statewide biomonitoring program, although Canada and a number of European countries have national breast milk monitoring programs.

“We are experiencing a dramatic increase in chronic diseases and illnesses, and mounting evidence links the incidence and severity of some illnesses and diseases to environmental contaminants,” said Sen. Ortiz, who is Chair of the Senate Health Committee. “This bill will enable us to know just which toxic pollutants are in our bodies and move accordingly to improve everyone’s health and safety.”

According to the bill, more than 85,000 synthetic chemicals currently are registered for use in the United States, and 2,000 new chemicals are added every year.

A large number of these chemicals are found in industrial emissions, occupational settings and in Environmental Protection Agency-designated Superfund sites. Many such chemicals persist in the environment, accumulate and remain in the human body and have been shown to be toxic.

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