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E-M:/ Michigan groups respond to the new report by the Center for Disease Control

Enviro-Mich message from "Megan Owens" <meo@umich.edu>

Thursday, March 22, 2001

Contact: Vicki Levengood, NET, 517-333-5786
          Megan Owens, PIRGIM, 734-662-6597
          Isaac Elnecave, MEC, 517-487-9539

CDC Report Card on Toxic Exposures: Michigan Responds
First-Ever Government Report a "Wake-up Call" on Chemical Contamination

Michigan Health Professionals, Childrens' Advocates, Workplace Safety
and Others Demand More Testing

Southfield, MI--Public health experts and representatives from some of the
most influential health, education, religious, environmental, and women's
organizations reacted with serious concern today to a government report
confirming the presence of multiple toxic chemicals in the bodies of
ordinary citizens.  The report released yesterday by the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention found that chemicals commonly used by industry, in
agriculture, and in some popular consumer products were present in the
bodies of most of the 5,000 ordinary Americans tested.

Michigan physician Michael R. Harbut, M.D., M.P.H. called the report "a wake
up call for Michigan."  Harbut praised the CDC report, but insisted it is
only a beginning.  "The report card release is an imminently responsible
first step in helping cure human diseases caused by environmental toxins.
Before today, we knew more about the amount of toxins found in a striped
bass than in an American child."

Harbut was joined in Southfield and Lansing news conferences by
representatives from the Michigan Council for Maternal and Child Health, the
Lansing Area Safety Council, the American Lung Association of Michigan,
Michigan Environmental Council, Arab Community Center for Economic and
Social Services (ACCESS), National Environmental Trust, PIRGIM, and
individual health care professionals.  The groups displayed a selection of
off-the-shelf products found in many Michigan homes that contain chemicals
measured in the CDC report card.  The Michigan groups, along with 15
national organizations, called for a systematic program of chemical exposure
monitoring -- a program vastly larger than the pilot program which produced
the results CDC announced yesterday.

"There are 80,000 chemicals in commerce today, but only these 28 have been
systematically monitored for," said Ed Ratzenberger of the Southeast
Michigan Safety Council.  "We can do a lot better."  Organizations called
for exposure monitoring programs in every state, monitoring for many more
chemicals, and looking much more closely at sensitive subpopulations like
children, the elderly, workers, and more highly exposed minority

Philip Landrigan, MD, Professor of Pediatrics at the Mount Sinai School of
Medicine, served as Chair of the Committee that produced a 1993 National
Academy of Sciences report, Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children.
"Americans are clearly being exposed to an array of toxic chemicals, many of
which can and should be avoided," said Landrigan. He emphasized that the
risk of these chemicals to any one individual is impossible to predict,
because there are many factors involved in calculating an individual's risk.
Nevertheless, he insisted the widespread exposure identified by the CDC
study is cause for concern: "We do know that some of these chemicals have
the potential to cause cancer, birth defects, and developmental and
reproductive disabilities. We should take these findings very seriously."

"The CDC's report actually raises more questions than it answers," said
Vicki Levengood, Michigan spokesperson for National Environmental Trust.
"While there's no evidence that most Americans have been exposed to
chemicals over their legal limit," said Levengood, "there is evidence to
suggest that some Americans have been exposed to very high levels of certain

The groups pointed out that the type of information made available cannot be
used to assess any one individual's health risk from the chemicals.  "We
just don't have enough information at this point to say anything meaningful
about the causes of any specific individual's health risks, and that's the
problem," said Levengood.  Nevertheless, according to the groups, increased
incidence of certain cancers, developmental problems, neurological and
learning disabilities, reproductive problems, and other health effects have
led many public health experts to question the role that toxic exposures may
play in each of these.

Since the CDC only released exposure levels without any additional
information about the chemicals, the organizations announced the creation of
a web site to address questions and concerns from the public.  The site at
www.toxicexposure.org provides the latest scientific information on health
effects of the various chemicals tested and examples of how Americans may be
exposed to them.  For example, the pesticides surveyed are commonly used in
agriculture, in public buildings and in private homes. The heavy metals such
as mercury are emitted from smokestacks of power plants and incinerators.
Another category of chemicals -- the phthalates -- are plasticizers and
fragrance carriers found in many consumer products like soap, perfume, and

"The people in our communities have a right to know not only what is in
their bodies, but where it came from and what health effects have been
associated with it," said Kathryn Savoie, Ph.D. of ACCESS.

The organizations were quick to trumpet two public health successes in the
CDC data:  blood levels of two chemicals, cotenein and lead, appear to be
declining.  "The good news about lead and cotenein clearly shows that public
health protections, such as bans on smoking in public areas and the phase
out of lead in gasoline, do actually work," said Isaac Elnecave, Air Quality
Specialist with the Michigan Environmental Council.  "It's time to apply
similar measures to the additional chemical risks the CDC has identified."

Specific results from the CDC's report

 Mercury: The report shows that every adult woman has some measurable
amount of mercury in her body. Ten percent of women of childbearing age in
this study were found to have levels of mercury so high that small increases
in their exposure to mercury while pregnant could jeopardize the health of
their baby. Because the measured mercury levels in this group are so high,
it is likely that the National Academy of Sciences was underestimating the
true impact in its report prediction that 60,000 children are exposed to too
much mercury in utero.

 Pesticides: Virtually everyone sampled in the CDC study had detectable
levels of two different pesticide metabolites, which means that everyone is
exposed to organo-phosphate pesticides on a regular basis. For two
metabolites, the top levels of exposure were high and cause concern because
they could potentially apply to ten percent of the population. If the
government's sample in fact represents the upper range of exposure for
average Americans, and not just for people who work with pesticides, it is
possible that millions of Americans are exposed to very high levels of one
or more of the parent pesticides. While it is impossible to describe the
health effects of that exposure without knowing the circumstances of the
individuals involved, organo-phosphate pesticides generally are neurotoxins
and can have developmental effects.

 Phthalates: Three of the phthalates monitored were found in everyone,
suggesting that people are exposed to these chemicals on a frequent basis.
This finding contradicts a recent estimate by the National Toxicology
Program. Also, the phthalate most closely associated with developmental
effects in animals (DBP) was found in particularly high levels among tested
women of childbearing age.

 Lead: Lead levels were shown to have continued their drop. In the report,
the CDC carefully clarified that lead levels are still very high in pockets
of the country because of sub-standard housing with lead paint.

                                Megan Owens
Field Organizer, PIRGIM                       734-662-6597
UM Alumna                                        meo@umich.edu

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