Study Finds Prominent Californians Contain Hazardous Chemicals Common in Consumer Products
Diverse Group of California Residents Found to Have 10 Times as Much Mercury and Higher Levels of DDT than Other Americans
SAN FRANCISCO—Chemicals commonly found in plastic water bottles, non-stick cookware and other consumer products have been detected in the bodies of Californians for the first time, a new study reveals.
Two of the chemicals found are probable human carcinogens, while others have been linked to a host of health disorders, including asthma, reproductive difficulties, neurological damage and birth defects.
The new study, "Taking It All In," conducted by Bolinas, Calif.-based Commonweal, and jointly released today with the Breast Cancer Fund, details test results and reactions from 11 prominent Californians from diverse walks of life who submitted urine, blood and hair samples. The study used sophisticated new biomonitoring analysis techniques, only possible in the last few years, to precisely measure the levels of toxic chemicals in their bodies.
Among the findings:
• Mercury, DDT (a pesticide banned for 30 years), perfluorinated compounds (used in Gore-Tex and Teflon products), PBDE flame retardants, bisphenol A and phthalates (ubiquitous in body care products and vinyl medical devices) or their metabolites were found in all 11 test subjects;
• When compared with national data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Californians in the new study were found to have 10 times the median level of mercury and higher levels of DDT than the average American;
• A chemical marker for bisphenol A, found in plastic water bottles, metal food can linings and elsewhere, was found in Californians for the first time. Among the 50 most-produced chemicals, exposure to BPA in the womb has been linked to increased risk of breast, prostate and testicular cancer. The chemical has also been implicated in birth defects, Down Syndrome, miscarriage, decreased sperm production and early puberty.
• Perflourochemicals (PFCs), marketed under brands such as Teflon, Stainmaster, Scotchgard and Gore-Tex, were found in Californians for the first time. A member of this chemical group, PFOA, was recently upgraded in concern by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to a probable human carcinogen.
Study authors noted that an explosion of new studies have shown that small amounts of toxic chemicals can have significant effects on health, especially for pregnant women, babies in the womb and young children.
"Biomonitoring is helping to create a revolution in our understanding of the links between exposure to chemicals and disease," said Davis Baltz, deputy director of the Commonweal Biomonitoring Resource Center. "We are learning that both very low doses or the timing of exposure can have profound, lifelong impacts. This is new information, and we need more of it."
The results prompted study participants to think not just about their own health, but the health of their children and neighbors.
"I've made changes since receiving my results, using different cooking pots, buying different personal care products, eating organic food when I can," said Wanna Wright, a poet, playwright and women’s health advocate who lives in Emeryville, Calif. "But we need to promote policies that ensure products are safe for ourselves and our babies. Two of my children have asthma and I am deeply concerned about any chemical impact on... this life-threatening disease."
Van Jones, founder and executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, Calif., said that "chemicals have been designed to serve some useful function, whether it is to prevent deaths in fires through the use of flame retardants, or to keep our clothes clean with grease repellents." But, he added, "We now find there are unintended consequences which are quite serious, often outweighing the benefits we thought we were getting."
The study contains a "chemical profile" of all 11 participants. The other California residents who participated were: Jo Behm, a health care educator from Novato; actor Peter Coyote of Santa Monica; Catherine Dodd, R.N., district chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and former regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Kathy Gerwig, vice president of a major healthcare organization, of Oakland; Martin Krasney, a writer and educator from Sausalito; Dr. Philip Lee, former chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco and a U.S. assistant secretary of Health and Human Services during the Johnson and Clinton administrations; Steve Lopez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times; Luz Alvarez Martinez, co-founder and former executive director of the National Latina Health Organization in Oakland; and the Rev. Stephen Privett, S.J., president of the University of San Francisco.
This week, the state Assembly likely will vote on legislation to establish a statewide, voluntary and confidential program to measure chemical contaminants in people.
Authored by Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) and Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata (D-Oakland), the "Healthy Californians Biomonitoring Program" (SB 600), would make California the first state in the nation to conduct a statewide biomonitoring program, a first step to help public health experts study the relationship between exposure to harmful chemicals and its effects on human health. Commonweal and the Breast Cancer Fund are co-sponsors of the legislation.
More than 100,000 synthetic chemicals currently are in use in the United States, and about 1,000 new chemicals are introduced every year. Yet less than 10 percent of chemicals have been tested for their effects on human health, according to SB 600. Many such chemicals persist in the environment, accumulate and remain in the human body and have been shown to be toxic.
"As a society, we are faced with a quiet crisis in public health," said Jeanne Rizzo, R.N., executive director of the Breast Cancer Fund. "Biomonitoring is an important scientific public health tool already used by the CDC. Its use in California will ultimately help us improve public health, reduce the incidence of serious and chronic diseases and prioritize prevention," she said.
The report is available online at http://www.commonweal.org/programs/brc/index.html.
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