Chicago, IL — Three toxic chemicals used in everyday products were found in five Illinoisans and 30 other volunteers in a nationwide biomonitoring project, according to a new report issued today by Environment Illinois and a coalition of public interest groups. The report comes at a time of heightened awareness of toxics in consumer products, following summer revelations about lead in children’s toys and lipstick.
The report, entitled Is It In Us?: Chemical Contamination in our Bodies - Toxic Trespass, Regulatory Failure and Opportunities for Action, documents the results of blood and urine testing of 35 people from seven states for contamination with three toxic chemical families: phthalates, bisphenol A and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). The project found all three types of toxic chemicals in every person tested.
“This report asked a basic question: If toxic pollution is in the products we use everyday, is it also in our bodies? The answer is yes. Just by going about their daily lives, Illinoisans are exposed to toxic chemicals,” said Max Muller, environmental advocate at Environment Illinois, and the project’s Illinois coordinator. “This exposure happens without most people’s knowledge, and certainly without their consent.”
The detected chemicals are ubiquitous in common products people use everyday, including baby bottles, shower curtains, cosmetics, upholstered furniture, computers, toys and scores of other common items found in most American homes, schools and workplaces.
Human and animal studies have linked the three chemicals to birth defects, cancer, learning disabilities, infertility, asthma, obesity and other health impacts. For some toxic chemicals, the levels found in people are near or above levels linked to health impacts in laboratory animals.
"People have a trust that products manufactured and sold in the United States are safe. This report proves otherwise. The results are particularly troubling to me as a nursing mother,” said Stephanie Felten of Aurora, a project participant, U.S. Naval veteran, and student.
“The chemicals looked for and detected in this project have been linked to birth defects, asthma, cancer, learning disabilities, obesity and diabetes--conditions of urgent public health concern,” said Ted Schettler, MD, the Science Director at Science and Environmental Health Network, and a medical and public health expert. “Just as disturbing, we have no information at all about the potential health effects of many other chemicals to which we are exposed because pre-market safety testing is not required for most of them in the US.”
The 1976 Toxics Substances Control Act, the federal law regulating industrial chemicals, has never been updated to reflect advances in science, such as evidence that even tiny doses of toxic substances may cause harm. While bisphenol A, phthalates, and PBDEs are known toxics, more than three-quarters of the 80,000 chemicals in American use have never undergone even basic toxicity screening. Even less is known about what combinations of chemical exposures exacerbate their impacts.
“It is not okay for industrial chemicals to be in people’s bodies. This kind of pollution shouldn’t be allowed.” Said Mattie Hunter, project participant and State Senator from Chicago.
“With these chemicals ubiquitous in our environment, homes, and, as this project shows, our bodies, even careful shopping can’t prevent exposure,” said Max Muller. “Our nation’s chemical safety system has failed. We need to adopt common sense policies that will protect people from involuntary exposure to toxic chemicals from products we use every day.”
The report concludes that the United States must adopt a comprehensive federal policy to raise the standards governing chemical use. A common sense chemical policy would: phase out harmful chemicals and substitute safer alternatives; require that chemicals be screened for safety and that toxicity data be publicly available; and promote, not stifle, the development of new alternatives and environmentally-friendly technologies.
Some states are taking the lead by creating policy solutions that could be adopted nationally. Maine, Washington and Hawaii this year adopted new laws phasing out toxic PBDEs and, in October, California adopted a law, modeled after and existing European Union provision, to eliminate toxic phthalates from children’s toys. Illinois is one of eleven states to have banned two of the three commercial formulations of the PBDEs. In 2007, State Representative Elaine Nekritz, also a project participant, sponsored legislation a to eliminate the third, which is called decaBDE, and was detected in the bodies of all but one of this projects’ participants.
“While it is disturbing to know the level of these unwanted chemicals in my body, I believe it is important to have this information and use it to demand change,” said Nekritz.
The report was released today at media events in Alaska, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, and New York. A full copy of the report, including biographic information and quotes from participants is available at www.isitinus.org.
Illinois Project Participants
Elaine Nekritz, 49, is the third term Democratic state representative of tree-lined Northbrook, where she lives, and five other suburbs Northwest of Chicago. Among her legislative priorities—healthcare, education, and local flooding and transportation issues— are implementing a state bio-monitoring program and phasing out dangerous toxics. She is an avid cyclist and lives with her husband, Barry. The project found four phthalates and seven PBDEs in Elaine, as well as bisphenol A in her blood and urine. “Biomonitoring projects such as this one are critical to establishing the need for a comprehensive chemicals policy in the United States. While it is disturbing to know the level of these unwanted chemicals in my body, I believe it is important to have this information and use it to demand change.”
Stephanie Felten, 27, served for eight years in the U.S. Navy, including five years aboard a ship overseas. A California native, she moved to Aurora Illinois with her husband Chad in 2005. Now a full time student at North Central College and stay-at-home mother, Stephanie’s interest in toxics stemmed from possible environmental exposures to her son, Derek, which led her to found the advocacy group Illinois MOMs (Making our Milk Safe). The project found all five phthalates and eight PBDEs in Stephanie, as well as bisphenol A in her urine. “People have a trust that products manufactured and sold in the United States are safe. This report proves otherwise. Manufacturers need to be held to a standard of using alternatives that are proven safe. The practice of using chemicals until they are found to harm human health is violating basic human rights. The project results are particularly troubling to me as a nursing mother.”
Dorian Breuer, 35, is a community organizer living in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, where he has fought to clean up the neighborhood’s industrial polluters. He has run for the Illinois State Senate. He commutes by bicycle to his new job, where he provides technical support for a Chicago nonprofit. In September 2007, he married his fiancée, Morgan. The project found four phthalates and seven PBDEs in Dorian, as well as bisphenol A in his urine. “This project has highlighted for me the pervasiveness of industrial chemical exposure in the modern world. How can the chemical makers oppose basic safety screening for chemicals? It seems like the same situation as the big-three automakers opposing seatbelts.”
Mattie Hunter, 53, has been a Democratic State Senator from Chicago since 2003 and has sponsored successful bills to reduce toxic mercury in products and fund breast cancer research. Her interest in toxics stems, in part, from high lead-contamination levels discovered in her district. She is also a certified alcohol and drug counselor. The project found four phthalates and seven PBDEs in Mattie, as well as bisphenol A in her urine. Mattie had the project’s highest levels of diethyl phthalate, above the CDC’s 75th percentile. “I was surprised to learn these chemicals were in my body, but in some ways, I’m surprised it wasn’t worse given some of the polluted places I’ve lived. It is not okay for industrial chemicals to be in people’s bodies. This kind of pollution shouldn’t be allowed.”
Anonymous woman. The project found four phthalates and seven PBDEs in this participant, as well as bisphenol A in her blood and urine and the second-highest level of the phthalate DEHP. The sum of her metabolites for DEHP was nearly twice the 95th percentile in the CDC’s third biomonitoring study. At her request, this participant was not identified.
Environment Illinois is a statewide, non-profit, non-partisan, environmental advocacy organization. Is It In Us? is a project of the Commonweal Biomonitoring Resource Center and the Body Burden Working Group, a coalition of organizations including, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Connecticut Clean Water Action, Environment Illinois, Massachusetts Clean Water Action, Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and The JustGreen Partnership. For more information please visit www.isitinus.org.