Vol. 9, No. 2, 2003 Page 1&2

'Body burden': studies reveal ubiquity of toxic chemicals in U.S.

Americans carry a toxic "body burden" of hundreds of synthetic chemicals and other contaminants, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Jim Pirkle and colleagues, who conducted the study, collected urine and blood samples from approximately 2,500 volunteers across the country, testing participants for the presence of 116 different contaminants. They found all 116 of the chemicals (which included toxic metals, combustion byproducts, and byproducts of pesticides, insect repellents and herbicides) present in at least some portion of the study subjects, with many present in more than half of the people they tested. (See related articles, Crime Times, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 2, Page 1 and Crime Times, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 2, Page 2.)

Their data, the researchers say, paint "a mixed picture, some encouraging findings and some of concern." Among their findings:

The researchers say that the reductions in levels of lead, cotinine, PCBs, and DDE are encouraging evidence that environmental regulation and education efforts are leading to drops in toxic exposure. However, other researchers say that overall, the CDC data are alarming. Says pediatrician and toxins expert Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., "The bottom line... is that a whole raft of synthetic chemicals that simply did not exist 40 or 50 years ago is now in the bodies and in the bloodstreams of most Americans."

In a related report, a study by the Environmental Working Group and Mt. Sinai's School of Community Medicine found 167 chemical contaminants in the urine and blood of nine study participants. Of these, the researchers say, 94 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 79 can cause abnormal development.

They add, "Subjects contained an average of 91 compounds, most of which did not exist 75 years ago.... Both studies [this one and the CDC study] reveal disturbing gaps in scientific understanding of environmental contaminants and in our system of regulatory safeguards."


National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, J. Pirkle et al., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, January 31, 2003, http://www.cdc.gov. See also: "CDC releases most extensive assessment to date of Americans' exposure to environmental chemicals," http://www.cdc.gov.

-- and --

"Body burden," Environmental Working Group, January 2003, http://www.ewg.org.

and --

"Proof of burden," Ben Harder, Science News, Vol. 163, February 22, 2003.

Return to:
[Author Directory] [Front Page] [Issue Index] [Subject Index] [Title Index]