[Pharmwaste] Practical advice on chemical exposure - '10 Americans'
hits home for Mill Valley mom
dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
Tue Mar 17 11:19:28 EDT 2009
'10 Americans' hits home for Mill Valley mom
Jessica Werner Zack, Special to The Chronicle
Monday, March 16, 2009
PCBs. VOCs. Pthalates. Bisphenol A (BPA). The list of industrial
chemicals on the minds of consumers is crowded with confusing new
acronyms as growing scientific data show a link between chemical
exposure and a range of behavioral, reproductive and immunological
Lawmakers in Washington have taken notice, albeit long after the
European Union, which banned pthalates in 2000. In August, President
Bush signed the Consumer Product Safety Act banning lead and six types
of pthalates from baby products. However, in January the U.S. Consumer
Product Safety Commission issued a one-year stay of enforcement of
aspects of the law. California then became the first state to approve a
similar ban, which went into effect last month.
For parents wanting to make healthy choices for their kids, it can be a
struggle, even for the most eco-savvy, to strike the right balance
between a kind of paranoid parenting, where dangers are seen lurking in
every plastic toy and nonorganic mattress, and blithe acceptance that
the benefits of living in our convenience-driven industrial world comes
at a cost.
'Stunned by the findings'
Marie McGlashan, an acupuncturist and health-conscious Mill Valley
mother of three, says she "stays up on the health issues surrounding
pesticides and chemicals, especially when it comes to what to feed my
family." So when she joined a group of parents at San Francisco's
Katherine Delmar Burke School last fall to hear environmental advocate
Ken Cook speak, she didn't expect to be "so stunned by the findings I
heard. Seeing his '10 Americans' presentation was a dramatic moment for
Cook is the energetic and persuasive co-founder of Environmental Working
Group (EWG) in Washington, D.C., a research organization and public
health lobbying powerhouse. Cook has been traveling the country since
2005 presenting the findings of EWG's "10 Americans" study, which tested
the umbilical cord blood of 10 babies born in U.S. hospitals from a
random sample supplied by the Red Cross on the same day in 2004.
287 chemicals found
The research was the most comprehensive testing ever conducted on human
umbilical cord blood. It found 287 industrial chemicals in the samples,
nearly half of which are known carcinogens. Also detected were dozens of
widely used brominated flame retardants (PBDEs) and their toxic
by-products, and numerous pesticides, including DDT and others, which
were banned more than 30 years ago.
"The placenta does not filter out toxins to the degree scientists and
doctors once believed," said Cook by phone from Washington, D.C. In
reality, a baby in utero "lives in a critical window of vulnerability,"
according to Cook, with an immature blood-brain barrier that efficiently
transfers nutrients - as well as contaminants - to his or her internal
"Learning that industrial pollution begins in the womb hit me so hard,"
says McGlashan, echoing the reactions of thousands of people who have
heard Cook's data-crammed multimedia presentation. "As scary as it is, I
knew more people were ready to hear his message and I was inspired right
away to do something to help." McGlashan contacted fellow mom-activists
Kimberly Pinkson, founder of EcoMom Alliance in San Anselmo, and Debbie
Friedman of Mothers of Marin Against the Spray. They invited Cook back
to the Bay Area to give an expanded version of his "10 Americans" talk
at Cavallo Point in Sausalito on Tuesday.
Like 'Inconvenient Truth'
Cook's "10 Americans" presentation has been described by some as the
"Inconvenient Truth" of environmental toxicity issues. "It was very much
our goal to affect people the way Gore did about climate change," says
Cook. Using more wit and less wonkishness than the former vice
president, Cook, bolstered by years of EWG scientists' research, helps
people cut through the mass of conflicting information and
misinformation on toxic exposure. He stresses that while causation is
difficult, if not impossible, to prove, scientific data point toward
chemical exposure as a real factor in the dramatic rise of many diseases
in the United States.
"I'm not suggesting for one minute that just because you have a
carcinogenic chemical in you it's going to cause cancer, or even that if
you went out and got tested for a chemical that would necessarily tell
you what you should then do for your health," Cook says. "But what we do
know about the overlap between genetics and environment is profound.
"We're no longer talking about nature versus nurture. We simply don't
mutate and evolve quickly enough to explain things like a 40 percent
increase in childhood brain cancer, soaring autism and infertility rates
or one in seven women getting breast cancer. One scientist I know says,
'Genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger.' "
To skeptics who question the impact of small concentrations of chemicals
(measured in parts per billion) that show up in the "10 Americans" cord
blood samples, Cook points out that many popular drugs - Paxil, Cialis
and Albuterol, among them - have very real therapeutic effects at the
same or lower concentrations. "If drugs are tested to make sure they are
effective at these low levels, isn't it crazy to assume otherwise for
Call it 'biomonitoring'
The "10 Americans" project is part of a rapidly growing field of study -
and lexicon - to describe the toxic chemical load we carry. Cook hopes
that through more widespread "biomonitoring" of our collective "body
burden" (the number of pollutants stored in human tissues and bodily
fluids), we will one day define the "human toxome" - named in deliberate
contrast to the "human genome" - which he describes as the full scope of
industrial pollution in humanity.
Environmental Working Group will soon make public the results of its
second "10 Americans" study. Cook wishes their sample size were larger,
but the lab costs for blood analysis are $10,000 per sample. "This is
really something which ought to be undertaken and bankrolled by the
government, not a small nonprofit like ours."
An additional EWG research project is investigating the chemical
emissions from cleaning products used in California's public schools,
with a spotlight on potential asthma-causing chemicals. Schools within
the San Francisco Unified, Oakland Unified and Jefferson Elementary
(Daly City) districts are involved in the study.
Now is the time
Encouraged by President Obama's recent pledge to "guarantee scientific
integrity" in federal policy, Cook believes now is the time to overhaul
our outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), signed into federal
law in 1976 to ensure the safety of commercial chemicals. The Act has
not been amended for 33 years - longer than any other major
environmental or public health statute on the books.
Cook says TSCA's main flaw is its failure to mandate health and safety
testing by manufacturers before using a new chemical in consumer
products. This is in stark contrast to the more than 100 studies on
average that are required before a new pesticide or drug can be
marketed. "Something's terribly wrong with a regulatory system that
assumes a toxic chemical is innocent until proven guilty. Our safety net
is in tatters."
During every "10 Americans" presentation, Cook urges his audience to
support the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act, a comprehensive chemical policy
reform that will be introduced in Congress by senators Frank Lautenberg,
D-N.J., Barbara Boxer, D-Cal. and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Cal., this
spring. Kid-Safe would reverse the burden of proof from the public to
the chemical manufacturers to determine safety. It would require
manufacturers to meet the "reasonable certainty of no harm" standard in
place for pesticides used in the growing of food.
Leaving the burden to consumers to ensure their safety through guesswork
and precautionary measures, Cook says, "is just folly. Even I resent
having to go to (EWG's) Web site (which links consumers to "Skin Deep,"
its cosmetic safety database) to figure out which personal care products
I should be worried about and which ones I should buy."
Unlike many proponents of eco-living that stress our purchasing power as
green consumers, Cook is adamant that "we cannot shop our way out of
Simple lifestyle changes
He promotes making simple lifestyle changes that can minimize chemical
exposures: Use cast-iron pans instead of nonstick; filter your water for
cooking and drinking; buy organic; avoid products with added fragrance
(which is often an indicator of pthalates).
And most of all, he urges people to "realize how much positive change
we're capable of. We got lead out of gasoline, we banned PCBs, we got
rid of DDT - and we still have cars, we still have an electrical grid
and we still have food to eat. Now we need one additional step regarding
chemicals and it's pretty simple: If they're in people, we ought to be
damn sure they're safe."
10 Americans: Environmental Working Group presentation. 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday. Free. Cavallo Point, 601 Murray Circle, Fort Baker, Sausalito.
RSVP at ewg.org/marin or call (202) 667-6982. This event will also be
available as a Webcast at www.ecomomalliance.org.
Jessica Werner Zack is a freelance writer in Marin. E-mail us at
datebookletters at sfchronicle.com.
This article appeared on page E - 6 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Deborah L. DeBiasi
Email: dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
WEB site address: www.deq.virginia.gov
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
Office of Water Permit Programs
Industrial Pretreatment/Toxics Management Program
PPCPs, EDCs, and Microconstituents
Mail: P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA 23218 (NEW!)
Location: 629 E. Main Street, Richmond, VA 23219
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