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ArticlesTHE DANGER WITHIN US?
Study shows bodies absorb chemicals of everyday items
By Cathleen F. Crowley, Staff Writer
Industrial chemicals found in shower curtains, soda cans and sofas
were detected in the blood and urine of 35 volunteers, according to a
national report released Thursday by a coalition of environmental
The groups sponsored the study to demonstrate that Americans are
absorbing hazardous chemicals from common household products. The
coalition is advocating for government regulations to force
manufacturers to stop using the chemicals.
Among the volunteers, Clifton Park's Heather Loukmas, 36, had the
highest blood level of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a flame
retardant used in electronic equipment and furniture foam.
"We can assume that every American has some level of these chemicals
in their body," Loukmas said during a news conference Thursday at the
Capitol in Albany. Loukmas is executive director of the Learning
Disabilities Association of New York State.
Scientists involved with the study traced her exposure back to
Michigan where Loukmas grew up. In 1973, the Michigan Chemical Co. accidentally shipped a chemical called Firemaster to cattle farmers
instead of Nutrimaster. The product was mixed in with cattle feed and
contaminated thousands of people who consumed the meat and milk before the mistake was discovered.
Loukmas was 2 years old at the time, but the experts told her she
probably passed it to her two children when she was pregnant.
The environmental groups hope to galvanize support for regulations
like the ones adopted by the European Union. Earlier this year, the EU
set new rules for 30,000 toxic substances and banned the most
The volunteers, who come from across the country, were tested for
three classes of chemicals used in plastics and flame retardants. The
chemicals, phthalates, bisphenol-A and PBDEs, were targeted because
animal studies have linked them to cancer, diabetes and birth defects
and because they are found in everyday household products like water
bottles, canned food, and computer screens.
The American Chemistry Council said Thursday that the study
unnecessarily raises fears because the presence of the chemicals in
blood and urine doesn't mean there is a significant health risk.
"To pose a health risk a chemical must exceed a threshold level in the
body," the American Chemistry Council said in a statement. "All
substances, including naturally occurring chemicals, and even water,
can be innocuous at levels below threshold, and produce toxicity when
levels exceed the threshold."
The problem with most of the 80,000 chemicals used in the production
of consumer goods is that no one knows the threshold for humans.
"Most people think there are laws in place that protect them from
dangerous products," said Curtis. "But that's just not the case."
The study titled "Is It In Us?" relied on a small sample of volunteers
and was not meant to be a scientific study, merely a demonstration to
raise public awareness. It was authored by Bobbi Chase Wilding and
Kathleen Curtis of Clean New York and supported by the Commonweal
Biomonitoring Resource Center and the Body Burden Work Group.
The full study can be found at www.isitinus.org.
On average, the tests detected about 400 parts per billion of
phthalates in the volunteers, 75 parts per billion of PBDEs and 1.5
parts per billion of bisphenol-A among the volunteers.
One part per million is the equivalent of one drop of food dye in
16,000 gallons of water or one second in 32 years.
While the chemical levels in the volunteers was minimal, Chase Wilding
noted that Viagra takes just two parts per billion to achieve its
Cathleen F. Crowley can be reached at [email protected].
The study, "Is It In Us?" tested volunteers for three classes of
chemicals commonly found in consumer products. Here's a closer look at the chemicals.
What they are: (THALL-ates) a group of industrial chemicals that add
flexibility and resilience to plastic products; additive in fixatives,
detergents and solvents.
Found in: Shower curtains, garden hoses, table clothes, vinyl
flooring, inflatable swimming pools, plastic clothing such as
raincoats, children's toys, automobile upholstery, carpets, time
release capsules, soap, shampoo, hair spray, nail polish, deodorants
Health effects: Associated with lower sperm counts, the feminization
of male genitalia in male fetuses, childhood asthma, reduced lung
How can I reduce my exposure? Avoid PVC (vinyl) in home remodeling
products, use a shower curtain made of natural fibers, polyester or
nylon instead of vinyl; avoid plastics marked #3, and products that
list "fragrance" as an ingredient; eat fresh food grown without
What they are: Production chemicals used in epoxy resin and
polycarbonate plastic products; also called BPA
Found in: some water bottles, baby bottles, food storage and heating
containers, the lining of metal food cans, dental sealants and toys
Health effects: In animal studies, BPA has been known to simulate
estrogen and is associated with cancer and diabetes
How can I reduce my exposure? Use glass, stainless steel or
polyethylene bottles (PETE, PET or #1 or #2 plastics) instead of
polycarbonate (PC or #7) bottles; avoid heating food in polycarbonate
containers; cut back on canned foods; ask your dentist about the
ingredients before getting dental sealants. Polybrominated diphenyl
What they are: A class of flame-retardant chemicals added to many
Found in: Furniture foam, textiles, kitchen appliances, electronics
like TVs and computer monitors, and in the fat of some food animals
Health effects: Associate with birth defects, cancer; neonatal
exposure affects learning and memory
How can I reduce my exposure? Wash hands frequently; dust with a damp cloth; look for companies that have pledged to create PBDE-free
products; choose lean meats and cooking methods that remove excess fat
Resources for finding products that do not use these chemicals:
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