Great article on the movements within governments and research that’s taken place in recent years to better understand the chemicals in and around us -
Clearly, there are chemicals in our bodies that don’t belong there. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducts a large, ongoing survey that has found 148 chemicals in Americans of all ages, including lead, mercury, dioxins and PCBs. Other scientists have detected antibacterial agents from liquid soaps in breast milk, infants’ cord blood and the urine of young girls. And in 2005, the Environmental Working Group found an average of 200 chemicals in the cord blood of 10 newborns, including known carcinogens and neurotoxins. “Our babies are being born pre-polluted,” says Sharyle Patton of Commonweal, which cosponsored “Is It in Us?” “This is going to be the next big environmental issue after climate change.”
The shocking thing to most Americans is that we really don’t know the health effects of many chemicals on the market today. Under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, chemicals already in use were grandfathered in without scrutiny. These include the three classes of compounds targeted in “Is It in Us?”—a plastic strengthener called bisphenol A (BPA), brominated flame retardants known as PBDEs and plastic softeners called phthalates. The chemical industry says these compounds have been used safely for decades, and certainly they do not have the overtly toxic properties of mercury or lead. But in animal studies and human cell cultures, they mimic hormones, with effects even at minute levels, down to parts per billion. Scientists say we’re now awash in a chemical brew of hormone-mimicking compounds that didn’t exist 100 years ago. “We’ve changed the nature of nature,” says Devra Lee Davis, director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh.
Take bisphenol A. It’s a basic constituent of the polycarbonate plastics found in many baby bottles, sippy cups and juice bottles. A highly versatile compound, it is also found in dental sealants, CDs, DVDs and the resin linings of food and beverage containers, including many cans and takeout cartons. But most scientists say small amounts can leach out—and ultimately find their way into our bodies—when the plastics start to break down under high heat or wear and tear. The CDC has found BPA in 92 percent of Americans age 6 and older who were tested. But the chemical industry says it’s safe—and the Food and Drug Administration agrees. “It’s not possible to contact harmful levels of it,” says Steven Hentges of the American Chemistry Council, which represents the major chemical companies.
Other scientists are starting to look at what happens when these chemicals are combined. L. Earl Gray Jr., a research biologist at the EPA, has tested mixtures of two or more phthalates in animals. He deliberately selected doses of each that were too low to cause effects individually—yet found that as many as 50 percent of male rats who were exposed to the combination in utero developed abnormalities in the reproductive tract.