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Tests show how toxic substances turn up in Americans’ blood

May 1st, 2009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

We hear every day about dangerous chemicals in household products that are linked to cancer, infertility, autism and other diseases – yet many Americans may not realize just how many of these harmful substances they’ve actually ingested in the course of everyday living.

The answer? About 48. That’s according a study by the Environmental Working¬† Group and Rachel’s Network, in which five leading minority women environmentalists from different parts of the country volunteered to have their blood tested for toxic substances. The results, say EWG experts, show that regulation of chemicals in the U.S. is weak and “antiquated” and needs a major overhaul.

The tests, performed by four independent labs in the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands, looked for traces of 75 common chemical contaminants that might turn up in people because they are used in household goods, plastics, beauty products and food and water.

It found, in the aggregate, traces of 48 chemicals in the women, notably flame retardants (used to treat some furniture and clothing), synthetic fragrances (from body care products and perfumes), the plastics ingredient Bisphenol A (found in bottles, canned food liners and other products) and the rocket fuel perchlorate (which has been found in some drinking water).

“We are fighting the things we know that are there, the things (pollutants) outside,” said Suzie Canales, founder of Citizens for Environmental Justice in Corpus Christi, which has pushed for a cleaner environment in a city with a concentration of oil refineries. “But it’s a double injustice to find out that the products put on the market are also killing us.”

Canales report showed that her blood contained traces of chemicals from BPA, musks, rocket fuel, lead and mercury. The profiles of the other women tested also turned up several chemicals, at levels above average, that have been linked to harmful health effects; though the toxic mix varied by individual.

The findings made concrete the suspicion that all Americans are being exposed to a daily brew of chemicals that advocates now call our chemical “body burden”.

“I was frustrated to learn about the industrial chemical contamination through this study. I am a mother and I have a 7 year old daughter. I try to live a sustainable life style,” said Jennifer Hill-Kelley, a member of the Oneida Nation who’s worked to clean up environmental pollution outside of Green Bay, Wisc.¬† “… I don’t have the information about the personal care products or the plastics I use…and I feel that as a consumer I deserve that information to be shared with me.”

Beverly Wright, a New Orleans sociology professor working to fight pollution in the heavily industrialized Lower Mississippi River Valley area, said she was “disturbed” to discover that her tests showed a high level of musks, which are potentially hazardous compounds in synthetic fragrances.

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