21
Jun
2005

Fight looms over state biomonitoring efforts: Industry opposes measuring contaminants in humans

Is the word "enemy" appropriate for business individuals who want to continue polluting human bodies and do so w/o testing for toxin levels in human bodies? Vioxx killed far more people than did the WTC collapse. FDA response, silence David Graham, M.D. The country has been hijacked by people and corporations who profit from toxins and from the injuries and symptoms caused by toxins.

Teresa Binstock



Fight looms over state biomonitoring efforts
Industry opposes measuring contaminants in humans

By Douglas Fischer, STAFF WRITER
dfischer@angnewspapers.com

//www.insidebayarea.com/oaklandtribune/localnews/ci_2812743

SACRAMENTO -- Dr. Richard J. Jackson, the state's top medical officer, has a pretty good idea how much lead contaminates you and your family. Even though he's never tested you.

He knows this because he and other scientists have spent the past 50 years measuring and studying lead in the United States. They know the typical blood-lead level in children and adults.

But when it comes to flame retardants, plasticizers, pesticides or any of the dozens of chemicals found as often as lead in our bodies, Jackson has scant idea of what's normal.

He cannot, for instance, say whether the amount of a ubiquitous flame retardant -- polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs -- tainting your daughter is typical, let alone what it means for her health.

And that, Jackson said, is a problem.

"It's so much easier to make public policy and make decisions when you have real data from real people," Jackson said as he spoke to a group of about 40 industry and government representatives at a human exposure workshop last week.

California needs a statewide biomonitoring program to track our exposure to various chemicals, from trans fat to PBDEs and organophosphate pesticides, Jackson said.

Such a program would be neither cheap nor small, he warned. It would require testing hundreds of Californians of every stripe for a suite of contaminants. But without the information, Jackson said, state health officials face increasing difficulty making decisions about our health and environment.

"Biomonitoring is the future," Jackson said. "We've got to do it, but we've got to do it right."

A bill planting the seeds for such a program has cleared the state Senate but faces long odds in the Assembly, where the California Chamber of Commerce has labeled it a "job killer," and moderate Democrats -- many who represent Central Valley agriculture interests -- have successfully killed past efforts.

The obstacles are many. At that workshop last week organized by the International Society of Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, a largely industry-backed group, participants questioned the need for biomonitoring data, particularly given substantial gaps in the ability of scientists and regulators to interpret the numbers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for instance, have found in urine plentiful evidence of plastic additives called phthalates, common in makeup, shampoo, soft plastic and vinyl floors. The CDC knows that women tend to have higher levels than men, and that children are even higher than women.

But they don't know whether those levels are dangerous or not.

"We're getting a bunch of levels without a statement -- a clear statement -- of their meaning," said Robert Kreiger, a toxicologist with the Personal Chemical Exposure Program at the University of California, Riverside. "That's half a loaf."

And are measurements of a particular contaminant in one population -- say, PBDEs in the breast milk of nursing moms -- representative for other people -- say, older women or men?

"We don't know," said Judy LaKind, adjunct associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "Frankly, we do a pretty lousy job when we have chemicals that interact in non-simplistic ways. We're really just beginning to scratch the surface."

To the bill's sponsor, Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, such ignorance offers more evidence of the program's need. She sees biomonitoring as a basic right to know: for individuals, to know what's in their bodies; for the state, to know exposure levels of potential carcinogens and synthetic toxins in Californians.

"The fear of the unknown is a legitimate concern," Ortiz said. "But it's ridiculous to stick our heads in the sand."

"We ought to tread very carefully in this new area. We ought not make assumptions from the data," she added. "But the first step is to gather information."

Biomonitoring programs in other countries have had a big impact on public health. Data from Sweden's breast milk monitoring program first alerted the world to PBDEs -- a very effective flame retardant common in foams, textiles and plastics -- after researchers watched levels rise exponentially in nursing moms in the'90s.

Two common commercial mixtures have since been banned in Europe, California, Maine, Hawaii and other states, though a third version remains unrestricted.

Closer to home, Jackson, the medical officer, needed human exposure information when he was a physician with the Department of Health Services during the 1981 medfly scare in Santa Clara County. With such information, he said, he could have told residents whether their chemical "body burden" of the malathion used to control the pest was normal.

But he didn't have it. So instead, scared residents fired rifles at helicopters spraying the pesticide.

Jackson sees myriad uses for such a program. Studies suggest, for instance, that African Americans have lower vitamin C levels than whites, particularly African Americans who smoke. Is that true in California?

What about efforts to push healthy diets and publish more nutrition information on food labels. Are trans-fat levels decreasing here?

A biomonitoring program could answer both questions. "It's a very powerful data set," Jackson said.

But to look at biomonitoring's true worth, Jackson again turns to lead.

Twenty five years ago, data showed levels of lead -- a potent neurotoxin -- dropped in blood as the metal was phased out of gasoline. That sealed its fate as an additive to paint, gasoline and other products. Researchers believe the average IQ has risen by 5 points in the United States as a result of lower blood-lead levels, with one IQ point worth an estimated $15,000 in lifetime income.

"That's a $75,000 gift for every child born in the U.S. compared to when I was born," Jackson said.

Contact Douglas Fischer at dfischer@angnewspapers.com
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