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From September 18, 2006                                                                                                        

California Weighing Nation’s First Statewide Biomonitoring Program
(Beyond Pesticides, September 18, 2006)
California may become the nation’s first state to have a statewide biomonitoring program to measure exposure to toxic chemicals provided Senate Bill 1379, the 2006 Healthy Californians Biomonitoring Program is passed. The bill, introduced by state Senators Don Perata (D-Oakland) and Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento), would require the state’s Department of Health Services to establish a program for residents who agree to have their blood, urine and other body fluids tested for toxic chemicals and other pollutants.

Biomonitoring is an increasingly popular science used to track hundreds of potentially harmful contaminants such as lead, mercury, DDT and other pesticides, PCBs and flame retardants. Biomonitoring provides more information about pesticide and other toxics health risks by measuring how much, and in whom, they accumulate. Projected costs for the program would total about $7 million a year, according to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

According to the Associated Press some scientists feel that simply because chemicals can be detected in humans it doesn't necessarily mean they are causing harm. However, pesticide use is being increasingly recognized by the medical community as a health threat to children and other vulnerable populations. Pesticides can cause neurological problems, learning disabilities, asthma, cancer and other chemically-induced illnesses.

The bill is supported by the California Nurses Association, the American Medical Association, large labor unions, and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club. According to Janet Nudelman, Director of Program and Policy for the Breast Cancer Fund, ``We monitor the air, the water and land for chemical contaminants, but we don't measure the chemical contaminants in people.'' Ms. Nudelman continued, ``By doing that, we can provide the kind of data we need to better understand links between chemical exposure and rates of disease, and communities that are disproportionately affected.'' Only summaries of the findings, not individual test results, would be made public every two years, starting in 2010.

Ms. Nudelman expects about 2,000 volunteers representing varying ages, ethnicities and regions would initially be sought for testing to compile statewide baseline data. Afterward, specialized studies could be conducted. Examples of the biomonitoring program include measuring chemical levels in people living near the ports of Oakland or Los Angeles, where ships and trucks emit high levels of soot and farm workers who experience pesticide-related illnesses and injuries.

According to Robina Suwol, executive director of California Safe Schools, " The public has a right to know what contaminants are in their bodies so that they can begin to make informed decisions. Biomonitoring will support efforts to improve public health by providing information about the chemical pollution that each of us carries in our bodies. "

The bill is also supported by Dr. Richard Jackson, trained pediatrician and former head of the Center for Disease Control's National Center for Environmental Health. Dr. Jackson recalled studying pesticides in farm workers for years. According to Dr. Jackson, ``Over and over again the problem we were dealing with is that we really didn't have any idea what people were exposed to.'' Dr. Jackson, now an adjunct professor at the University of California-Berkeley, says there is currently no way of measuring or knowing exposure levels and noted other states will copy California if passed.

During this year strong opposition to SB 1379 came from the farm, oil, chemical and manufacturing industries who fought the bill after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar version in 2005. Both the Governor and industry critics had said it didn't include enough scientific checks and balances, and risked misleading people by overstating health risks from minuscule levels of exposure. However, according to the Associated Press two weeks ago, industry withdrew its opposition after Governor Schwarzenegger's staff negotiated changes with state Senators Perata and Ortiz. One change required that the panel organizing the program be made up of experts with backgrounds in epidemiology, biostatistics, toxicology and other disciplines.

Similar efforts (see Daily News) failed three years in a row after industry opposed the funding sources. First, the bill was to be paid for by a cigarette tax, then fees on industry. Now the money is proposed to come from the state general fund. If Governor Schwarzenegger signs the bill, the new law will set up a nine-member panel of experts appointed by the Governor and legislative leaders to design a biomonitoring program.