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From February 9, 2006                                                                                                        

Biomonitoring Bill Returns to California Senate
(Beyond Pesticides, February 9, 2006)
After numerous failed attempts, a bill to create the nation's only statewide system for tracking our bodies' levels of environmental pollutants such as plastic and flame retardants is back in California. On Tuesday, February 7, Senators Don Perata (D-Oakland), and Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento), vowed to introduce for the fourth time a bill creating a California-specific biomonitoring program, calling it a top legislative priority.

``I'm at the point in my life where it seems one out of two people I know has cancer,'' Senator Perata said in a statement. He's not far off: Today half of all men and one out of three women will develop some kind of cancer in their lifetime.

Public health officials alarmed by rising rates of cancer and other ailments consider biomonitoring - the use of sophisticated tests to detect trace amounts of specific chemicals in people's blood, hair or urine - a powerful tool in their quest to understand why.

But industry and others have long fought such efforts. Technological advances allow scientists to see trace contaminants in our blood at fantastically small levels, akin to sniffing out a single drop of gin mixed with enough tonic to fill a line of railroad tank cars a mile long. But researchers cannot yet say for certain that pollutants at such concentrations impair our health. And without that information, critics contend, biomonitoring programs unnecessarily scare the public and improperly taint the benefits of modern synthetic chemicals.

A number of studies, however, suggest that some pesticides may cause health and environmental effects at very low levels. For example, when exposed to atrazine at concentrations considered safe by EPA, hamster ovary cells exhibit chromosome damage, including at levels commonly found in public water supplies. Additionally, tadpoles exposed to below-allowable levels of atrazine develop sexual abnormalities including hermaphrodism (See Daily News 4/16/02).

Proponents contend information about our “body burden''- –the chemicals we carry around in our body--is crucial for educating the public and regulators. Indeed, a year-long investigation by this paper of a Berkeley family's body burden prompted the family, which had information unavailable to the wider public about contaminants in their blood, to make some lifestyle changes and start lobbying the Legislature on this issue.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the most recent version of this bill in October, saying he supported the idea but had concerns about the bill and preferred to work within his administration to develop a program.
``We haven't seen any of that happen,'' said Alicia Dlugosh, spokeswoman for Senator Perata on Tuesday. ``We want to keep the issue at the forefront.''

The new version, to be introduced next week, contains what Dlugosh described as ``a few tweaks'' from the previous: The deletion of a controversial idea to test women's breast milk for contaminants; and the doubling in size of the advisory panel tasked with overseeing the program, from eight members to 16.

TAKE ACTION: If you are a California resident, contact your state representatives telling them that you support Senator Perata’s biomonitoring bill.