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Enviromental Chemicals article -- 314611.htm

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CDC Releases First-Ever Data On Exposure To Certain Environmental Chemicals

Reuters Health
March 22, 2001

ATLANTA (Reuters Health) - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday released groundbreaking data about exposure of the US population to 27 different environmental chemicals.

The data were gathered as part of the 1999 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), in which blood and urine samples were gathered from about 5000 participants at 12 locations throughout the US. With the exception of lead, cadmium, and cotinine, data on exposure of the US population to these chemicals had not previously been reported.

"I believe that this is a major step forward in assessing exposure of the US population...to environmental chemicals--it could be revolutionary in terms of environmental health in the United States," Dr. Richard J. Jackson, director of the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health, said during a telephone press conference.

The 27 chemicals fall into four groups: metals, including lead, mercury and cadmium; cotinine, an indicator of secondhand tobacco smoke exposure; organophosphates, used to make pesticides; and phthalates, widely used in industry and found in soap, shampoo, hairspray, and nail polish, as well as in flexible plastic products.

Dr. Eric Sampson of the CDC's Environmental Laboratory noted that the report provides new information about phthalates. "Seven major phthalates were measured and we found that two of the metabolites--diethyl phthalate (DEP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP)--are at higher levels in the population than metabolites of other phthalates that are actually produced in higher quantities," he said. "We are conducting additional studies to explain these findings."

Lead levels, which have been monitored in the US since 1976, decreased for children aged 1 to 5 years from 2.7 micrograms per deciliter, the geometric mean for the period 1991 to 1994, to 2.0 micrograms per deciliter. "These lower levels mean that public health actions have been successful in decreasing children's exposure to lead," Dr. Sampson said.

"Another exciting finding was that cotinine levels have gone down more than 75% since the measurements taken in 1991," he commented.

Dr. Jackson emphasized that the new report concerns just one year's worth of data, "so sample size is somewhat limited in that regard," he said. "Ultimately data from many more locations will be reported," he added, estimating that data on exposures to 100 chemicals will be collected and the CDC will make more detailed assessments of exposures in different populations.

Dr. Jackson also stressed that the presence of a chemical in blood or urine does not necessarily indicate that the chemical will cause disease. "Additional research is required to determine whether the levels reported are a cause for health concern," he said.

"Coming out of this report is an understanding of just how widespread exposure to phthalates apparently is," Dr. John Balbus, of the George Washington University School of Public Health, said at a press conference held in response to the CDC's report.

"Women of childbearing age in particular are exposed to DBP, which has been most clearly associated with developmental effects in animal studies," Dr. Balbus said. "Because of these higher exposure levels, we need to look more closely at whether the public is at risk."

"I think most people would be surprised to know how little the government actually knows about the level of chemicals that are in people's bodies," he added.

In a statement released Tuesday, Sandra Tirey, assistant vice president and co-leader of the American Chemistry Council's Public Health Team, cautioned that "biomonitoring data alone is not an indication that anybody's health is being harmed....The health significance of biomonitoring data is virtually impossible to interpret without toxicity research."

The Phthalate Esters Panel of the American Chemistry Council said in a Wednesday press release that "the highest levels reported by CDC indicate that the exposure levels of the US population to the phthalate esters measured are within the safety limits set by the US Environmental Protection Agency."

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