Daily News Archive

CDC Report Reveals Americans' Exposure to Environmental Chemicals
(from February 4, 2003)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released the second National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, which presents exposure information for 116 environmental chemicals that find their way into the human population through pollution or consumer products, measured in blood and urine specimens. The report found positive results for 89 chemicals, including PCBs, dioxins, phthalates, selected organophosphate pesticides, herbicides, pest repellents and disinfectants in the volunteers tested.

"This report is by far the most extensive assessment ever of exposure of the U.S. population to environmental chemicals," said CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding, "This kind of exposure information is essential, it helps us to lay the critical groundwork for future research in ensuring that exposures to chemicals in our environment are not at levels that affect our health."

The report contains new data on declines in blood lead levels in children; decreases in adults' exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, and for the first time, extensive data on many other chemicals that will help public health physicians and scientists identify and prevent health problems from exposure.

Blood and urine samples were collected from some 2,500 participants, who represent the U.S. population for the years 1999 and 2000, for each chemical tested in CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)-an ongoing national health survey of the U.S. population. CDC's Environmental Health Laboratory developed special analytical methods and measured the chemicals and their metabolites (breakdown products) in these blood and urine samples. The CDC states that the report will continue to be released every two years, expanding the number of chemicals covered.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), in partnership with Mt. Sinai School of Community Medicine and Commonweal released a similar study, Body Burden: The Pollution In People, late last week. Published in the peer-reviewed journal Public Health Reports, the study results offer an up-close and personal look at nine individuals whose bodies were tested for 210 chemicals - the largest suite of industrial chemicals ever surveyed.

The Body Burden study found:
-- Subjects contained an average of 91 compounds, most of which did not exist 75 years ago.
-- In total, the nine subjects carried 76 chemicals linked to cancer.
-- Participants had a total of 48 PCBs, which were banned in the U.S. in 1976 but are used in other countries and persist in the environment for decades.

"To the extent that today's CDC report on human exposure to toxic chemicals brings us good news, it is because government took action and regulated harmful substances such as PCBs, DDT and lead in paint and gasoline," said Jane Houlihan, EWG vice president for research. "Decades after they were banned, though, PCBs are still found in the human body, and more than two percent of all children continue to carry unsafe levels of lead in their bodies."

"The CDC's work parallels our own findings. Given the range of health effects linked to the chemicals for which we tested, we hope that research will eventually precede chemical use in consumer products, and that testing will inform decision makers and lead to better protection of public health," said Houlihan.

In response to the CDC's findings, Jay Vroom, president of CropLife America, which represents pesticide manufacturers, told the Washington Post, "I certainly do empathize with people with disease. But the thing we have to keep reminding the American public is that every one of those compounds found in blood and urine resulted from commercial products that benefited society . . . and nothing is risk-free."

The CDC report is available online at the following web site: www.cdc.gov/exposurereport. The EWG report is available at www.ewg.org.