Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 23, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The latest study of industrial poisons in humans has revealed that people in Washington State all carry a "body burden" of toxicants, with effects that are unknown but surely not good. Studies confirm that in the U.S., babies are all born carrying a body burden of toxicants, which they pick up in the womb. What's wrong with this picture?]

By Rachel La Corte, Associated Press Writer

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- A coalition of environmental and advocacy groups tested 10 Washington residents from around the state and found each of them had dozens of potentially harmful chemicals in their bodies, ranging from pesticides to flame retardants.

Coalition officials who released the report in Seattle on Tuesday acknowledged it wasn't a scientific representation of the state, but said they wanted to put a face on the issue.

The Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition collected hair, urine and blood samples last fall from the participants, who were specifically chosen for the tests. Most of the participants are involved with organizations that are members of or have worked with the coalition.

The coalition said it chose the people to represent both genders, different races, professions and people who live in different parts of the state, as well as people who were local leaders.

Laboratories in Victoria, British Columbia, Seattle, and Los Angeles tested the samples for 86 chemicals. Each participant, including state Sens. Bill Finkbeiner and Lisa Brown, both from opposite sides of the state, tested positive for at least 26 of the various chemicals, and as many as 39.

An extensive study on exposure to environmental chemicals by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year stressed that the presence of an environmental chemical in blood or urine "does not mean that the chemical causes disease." But state coalition members said they wanted people to be aware of potential risks.

"It's very likely each of us is walking around with a cocktail of chemicals in our bodies," said Erika Schreder, staff scientist for the Washington Toxics Coalition and the lead scientist on the report. "The chemicals that we found in our test participants are chemicals that are linked to very serious health problems. That's a concern."

But Dr. Elaine Faustman, a toxicologist and professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Washington, said it's important to keep in mind the levels of chemicals in each person, not just that they are detected.

She noted that there are persistent chemicals in almost everyone.

"For us, the dose makes the poison," she said.

However, Faustman said that while the sample size was very small, the report was a good tool to see specific data for the Pacific Northwest.

Among the chemicals found were phthalates, a manmade ingredient of many plastics, cosmetics and other consumer products.

Other chemicals included fire-retardant PBDEs, and PFCs, which are found in the plastic coating Teflon.

Finkbeiner, R-Kirkland, had 30 chemicals detected and a mercury level above the EPA "safe" level. Of the group tested, he had the highest levels of the Teflon chemicals and the pesticide carbaryl.

"I never gave too much thought or made too many lifestyle choices based on these issues prior to having this profile. It sure made me think a whole lot more," said Finkbeiner, who added that he has since stopped using Teflon pans, plans to buy more organic foods, and will pull weeds in his yard instead of spraying them with pesticides.

Schreder said the report should serve as a wake-up call to the state's lawmakers and Gov. Chris Gregoire.

"What we're really lacking is a comprehensive approach to ensure these harmful toxins are not in our products," she said.

A spokeswoman for the American Chemistry Council, which represents about 130 major chemical companies, said the small sample of the report doesn't warrant "the far-reaching conclusions or recommendations that are made."

Sarah Brozena said scientists have long known that humans can absorb chemicals from the environment.

"We are finding them now because there are much better analytical techniques that can measure them at these very trace (part per billion or part per trillion) levels," she said in an e-mailed statement. "Further, detection of chemicals in our bodies -- by itself -- is not an indication of risk to health and shouldn't be cause for alarm."

Earlier this year, the state Department of Health and the Department of Ecology asked the Legislature to ban all trade in PBDEs, arguing that the fireproofing chemicals are being found in Columbia River fish, seal blubber, grizzly bears and women's breast milk.

A bill died in the Legislature this year, though supporters said they will try again next year.

Schreder said that, in addition to the passage of the PBDE ban, the coalition wants the state to require companies that do business with Washington state to provide complete information on what types of chemicals are used. The coalition also wants to see an immediate plan to phase out certain products and manufacturing chemicals, and to help companies make the switch with either incentives or technical assistance.

Gregoire's office did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment on the report.

Brown, D-Spokane, said the report got her attention, and she's certain it will open a dialogue in the next legislative session.

"We pretty much take for granted that Washington state is a beautiful place to live and work," said Brown, who tested positive for 37 chemicals, including high levels of mercury. "We want it to be a truly healthy place to live."


On the Net:

Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition:

Washington Toxics Coalition:

CDC National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals: