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Senators Ortiz, Perata and Coalition of Environmental Health Advocates Launch New Effort to Measure "Pollution in People"

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 17, 2005
Contact: Kevin Donegan, Breast Cancer Fund, (415) 346-8223 x14, kevin@breastcancerfund.org; Hallye Jordan, Office of Sen. Deborah Ortiz, (916) 445-7807

SACRAMENTO—State Sens. Deborah Ortiz and Don Perata joined a coalition of environmental health advocates today to launch an effort to begin to discover the role exposure to toxic chemicals has on devastating diseases such as asthma and cancer.

As part of the effort, a dozen high-profile public figures will be tested for the presence in their bodies of cancer-causing and other dangerous chemicals commonly found in products such as cosmetics, mattresses and pesticides.

In the state Capitol today, Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) and Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata (D-Oakland) will introduce the “Healthy Californians Biomonitoring Program,” to establish a statewide, voluntary and confidential program to measure chemical contaminants in people.

According to the bill, chronic diseases carry enormous costs to California. The estimated total cost of asthma to the state, for example, is $1.27 billion every year. If enacted, the legislation would make California the first state in the nation to conduct a biomonitoring program, although Canada and a number of European countries have national breast milk monitoring programs. Biomonitoring data would allow the state to begin to study the relationship between exposure to harmful chemicals and its effects on human health.

“We are experiencing a dramatic increase in chronic diseases and illnesses, and mounting evidence links the incidence and severity of these illnesses and diseases to environmental contaminants,” Ortiz said. “Most of these chemicals are not tested to determine whether or not they cause diseases in humans. 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.”

The advocacy groups organizing the testing of prominent citizens and sponsoring the legislation are the Breast Cancer Fund and Commonweal. The National Environmental Trust and the California Interfaith Partnership for Children’s Health and the Environment also are supporting the effort.

“We already monitor what’s in our air, our water and even what’s in our fish,” said Jeanne Rizzo, executive director of the Breast Cancer Fund. “It’s time to start looking at what’s in our bodies so we can better prevent cancer, birth defects and other chronic illnesses.”

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. Yet less than 10 percent of those chemicals have been tested for their effects on human health, the bill says.

A large number of these chemicals are found in everyday products such as cosmetics and other personal care products, pesticides, food dyes, cleaning supplies, fuels and plastics. 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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