5 May 2003
may test pollution in people
The proposed program aims to draw a link to developmental disorders.
By Ed Fletcher
are considering a proposal to begin a statewide program to use breast
milk, urine and blood to test for contaminants in the body.
program would borrow techniques from the University of California,
Davis, where researchers use blood, hair and other tissue samples
to explore the environmental factors that may lead to autism.
there hope the proposed tests will tell them to what extent chemicals
used for industrial, commercial and medical purposes affect autism
and other developmental disorders.
proposed state program promises a much broader application.
tells us about pollution in people -- what actually gets inside
us and has the potential of causing harm," said John Peterson
Myers, co-author of the book "Our
Stolen Future," which examines the effect foreign chemicals
in adults have on fetal development.
pay for the pilot program -- which would be the first such state
program in the nation -- Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, has proposed
a 1-cent-a-pack increase in the tobacco tax.
money for the program will be difficult at a time the state faces
a budget deficit Gov. Gray Davis has estimated is as high as $34.6
billion, Ortiz admits.
2003-04 budget proposes a $1.10-a-pack increase in the tobacco tax.
An alternate proposal -- also being pushed by Ortiz -- calls for
a $1.50-a-pack tax increase to reduce smoking and pay for other
health care programs.
of the merits of the proposed biomonitoring program, tobacco industry
lobbyists argue, there should not be a special tax to pay for it.
Ortiz contends such tests could have a powerful impact on the long-term
health of Californians.
studies can shed new light on how well our regulations are working
and help us set priorities for reducing dangerous chemicals that
are present in persons' bodies," said Ortiz as she presented
her bill, SB 689, to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee
last week. "Learning about (contaminants in the body) can help
individuals make informed decisions about their health."
bill passed its first committee test on a 9-3 vote last week.
pilot program would earmark the $10 million projected to be raised
by the 1-cent tobacco tax for at least three study areas of diverse
populations. A commission would decide which populations would be
subject to the initial tests.
tests would study breast milk. Breast milk contains more fat than
blood and is useful in testing for substances that are harder to
find in the blood. The bill is sponsored by the San Francisco-based
Breast Cancer Fund and by Commonweal, a Bolinas-based health and
environmental research institute.
are limitations to the immediate usefulness of biomonitoring data,
officials said. Tests must be for specific compounds, and researchers
must find a cause-and-effect relationship to improve public health,
state data could be compared with federal data gathered by the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, local health officials would
be able to learn much more about health risks in California, said
Dr. Jim Pirkle, assistant director for science at the CDC. Current
CDC testing is limited and can't break out state-specific data that
are scientifically valid.
CDC biomonitoring discovered in the late 1970s that levels of lead
in people dropped radically as lead was temporarily taken out of
association of lead in gas and the lead in people was much closer
than we thought," Pirkle said. As a result, lead was never
added back to auto fuel, Pirkle said.
January, the CDC released its second report on human exposure to
environmental chemicals. The report detailed the levels of 116 chemicals
in test subjects chosen to represent the U.S. population.
toxic exposure studies try to calculate the safe level of human
contact with harmful substances. While these estimates are often
correct, health officials acknowledge that there have been many
instances in which products have been deemed safe and were later
determined to be harmful.
A. Hearne, executive director of the Trust for America's Health,
is among those who say traditional tests can't always say if people
have been exposed to dangerous chemicals.
Hearne said, "may give them a better chance to understand what