Maine Citizens Tested for Toxic Chemicals
Participants, Researchers, and Sponsors to Present Startling Findings
What do a nurse, a sporting camp owner, a farmer, a journalist, a high school senior, a writing instructor, a furniture store owner, an author, a community organizer, a homemaker, a fundraiser, a safety instructor, and a teacher all have in common?
They are everyday people going about their everyday lives. Yet, in the first study of its kind, all thirteen were found to have toxic chemicals in their bodies.
What does this tell us about chemical testing, government policies, product safety, and the potential impact on the health of Maine people?
Participants (including two state legislators), medical professionals, and report sponsors will gather to present the report, reflect on the findings, and offer a roadmap for action.
WHEN: Tuesday, June 12, 2007
TIME: 12 Noon
WHERE: Judiciary Committee Room, Room 438, State House, Augusta, Maine
FORMAT: Participant testimonials, policy and medical perspectives, Q&A to follow
The full report will be available, along with examples of common household items that contain hidden toxic chemicals.
The study has been conducted by the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine, a coalition of Maine-based organizations committed to protecting human health from toxic chemical exposure. Member organizations include:
Environmental Health Strategy Center
Forty-five other organizations, representing health-affected children, workers, doctors, public health professionals, environmentalists, and affected communities, have endorsed the Alliance principles.
Learning Disabilities Association of Maine
Maine Labor Group on Health
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Maine People's Alliance
Maine Public Health Association
Natural Resources Council of Maine
Physicians for Social Responsibility/Maine Chapter
Toxics Action Center
Chemicals in Household Products Often Unsafe or Untested
New Study Reveals Pollution in Maine People, Urges Action by Lawmakers
(June 12, 2007 - Augusta, ME) The chemical industry and government safety systems came under fire on Tuesday as medical professionals, sponsors, and participants gathered at the State House to talk about the results of a new study on the pollution found in the bodies of Maine people. The report, “Body of Evidence,” tested 13 citizens from across Maine for 71 chemicals in their bodies. Toxic industrial chemicals were found in every person tested. Called “pollution in people” by the report’s sponsors, the chemicals found can cause learning disabilities, cancer, birth defects, infertility and hormone disruption.
Sandra Cort, Board Member and Past President of the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine identified the report as a call to action. Cort stated, “According to the National Academy of Sciences, exposure to toxic chemicals is part of the root cause in over a quarter of the cases of learning disabilities. We must shift the burden onto the chemical industry to prove that chemicals are safe before they are allowed into commerce, our homes, and the bodies of our children.”
The report concludes that most chemical pollution happens in the course of our daily lives, and that most people are unaware they are being exposed by common household and personal products and plastics. The study found an average of 36 industrial chemicals in each participant, including PBDE flame retardants from couches and televisions; PFCs (the Teflon chemicals) from stain resistant furniture, clothing and fast food paper and nonstick cookware; phthalates from nail polish, cosmetics and soft vinyl plastic such as shower curtains; bisphenol A from reusable Nalgene water bottles and the plastic linings of food cans; and the toxic metals mercury from polluted fish, lead from old paint, and arsenic from well water and old pressure treated wood.
Michael Belliveau, Executive Director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, stated that “This study shows that our safety system for industrial chemicals is badly broken. Hazardous chemicals don’t belong in our bodies. We need government action to prevent pollution in people. We need a new chemical policy that ensures the safety of everyday products, especially for developing babies and children. The Maine Legislature should fix the broken safety system for industrial chemicals by enacting a chemicals policy that requires safer alternatives to the worst chemicals.”
Medical professionals responded to the report with concern about the continued use of known hazardous chemicals and the lack of industry health and safety testing on most chemicals used in the products people consider everyday household items. Former Maine State Health Officer Dr. Lani Graham remarked, “From a public health perspective, there is no time to waste. We have a window of opportunity to address this problem that is fast slamming shut. We need a comprehensive approach to minimize the use of hazardous chemicals in our environment that is based on science, not on guesswork.”
The participants attending the release of the report each had a different story to tell but they were consistent in their demand for action from state government. Interestingly, two of the participants are lawmakers themselves. Hannah Pingree, a legislator from North Haven, had high levels in several chemical categories. She was outraged by the results of the study and quick to demand action. Pingree stated, “Maine is a leader and change starts here. We can’t wait for the federal government. I say to my fellow legislators, ‘if I have toxic chemicals in my system, you do too’. It’s our job to protect the people of Maine. We need action now.”
The study and Body of Evidence report was conducted by the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine, a coalition of Maine-based organizations committed to protecting human health from toxic chemical exposure. Partners of the Alliance include: the Environmental Health Strategy Center; Learning Disabilities Association of Maine; Maine Labor Group on Health; Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association; Maine People's Resource Center; Maine Public Health Association; Natural Resources Council of Maine; Physicians for Social Responsibility/Maine Chapter; and Toxics Action Center. Forty-eight organizations, representing health-affected children, workers, doctors, public health professionals, environmentalists, and impacted communities, have endorsed the Alliance.
Body of Evidence: A Study of Pollution in Maine People
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Aren’t there state and federal policies that protect us from harmful toxic chemicals?
A: No. There are no comprehensive state or federal chemical policies currently in place that adequately protect all citizens from exposure to toxic chemicals. Without adequate regulation, industries can simply “sell first, test later”. The burden should be on the chemical industry to prove chemicals are safe before they hit the market. New laws are needed to ensure that products on store shelves are safe for our families.
Q: Aren’t industries required to thoroughly test chemicals before selling them?
A: No. Though there are 80,000 chemicals in use today, only a small percentage of them have been adequately tested for safety. Unfortunately, what we don’t know about most chemicals far outweighs what we know. Introducing untested chemicals into the market puts everyone at risk and adds to the burden on our health care and education systems.
Q: Aren’t all products regulated for safety before going on the market?
A: No. Because there is no comprehensive state or federal system to test and regulate chemicals, there are thousands of products on the market that contain untested, unregulated, and potentially dangerous chemicals. Product manufacturers, including many small businesses, are put at risk because of this.
Q: What kinds of health problems can result from toxic chemicals in the body?
A: Toxic chemicals pose serious health risks, including learning disabilities, autism, cancer, and infertility. They add significantly to the burden on our health care and education systems. Developmental disabilities alone are estimated to cost the U.S. $8 billion per year in medical, developmental, and special education services, as well as work and productivity losses.
Q: Isn’t it up to the individual to make good choices on what they eat and what products they use?
A: You can’t “lifestyle” your way out of a problem that has invaded every facet of our existence. Most chemical pollution happens as we go about our daily lives - in the food we eat, things we buy, and places we work. Most people are unaware that they are being exposed to toxic chemicals from many of the products they bring into their homes.
Q: How can I avoid exposure to toxic chemicals in everyday products?
A: You can’t. Because there are no comprehensive state or federal chemical policies currently in place, only a small percentage of chemicals in use have been adequately tested and regulated. Chemicals need evaluation. Products need regulation. And people need information.
Q: Aren’t these chemicals essential to maintaining our high quality of life?
A: No. There are many safer alternatives that allow us to maintain every convenience of modern living without exposing ourselves to dangerous and untested chemicals.
Q: Isn’t Maine a clean rural state that is much less polluted than other parts of the country?
A: It’s not about living in a “dirty” state or next to a hazardous waste site. Most chemical pollution happens as we go about our daily lives. Aroostook County is no safer than the rest of Maine and Maine is no safer than the rest of the US.
Q: Isn’t chemical regulation just more of a burden on businesses?
A: The real burden on manufacturers, including many small businesses, is the risks they are forced to assume because most chemicals are not adequately tested by the chemical industry or regulated by the government. Manufacturers are caught in the middle – they want to offer consumers safe and effective products, but it isn’t feasible or affordable for them to independently test every raw material they use.
Q: Does the report link chemical pollution levels to specific Maine businesses?
A: The purpose of this report is not to identify any specific businesses that are to be blamed. And the sponsors of the report do not believe there is any company in Maine that is a direct contributor to the chemical pollution levels measured. Rather, this is about a system that is broken.
Q: Aren’t the exposure levels so low as to have no real effect on health?
A: There are many examples where low levels of certain chemicals have a significant impact on health. For example, many prescription drugs are effective at doses similar to the low levels found for the chemical pollutants in this study. And many chemicals mimic natural hormones in the body that act at extremely low levels to regulate development, reproduction, immune function and many other biological systems. In addition, many chemicals are slow to degrade, so low levels build up to higher levels over time.
Q: How can I get tested for toxic chemicals in my body?
A: Unfortunately, the process for getting tested for toxic chemicals is both complicated and costly. There is no “one-stop shopping” for the tests undertaken in this study. For more information, contact the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine (see information below).
Q: How do I get more information or get involved?
A: Contact the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine at www.cleanandhealthyme.org, 207-772-2181, One Pleasant Street, Fourth Floor, Portland, Maine 04101
Hannah Pingree: "We can't wait for the federal government. Maine is a leader and change starts here. I say to my fellow legislators, 'If I have toxic chemicals in my system, you do too'. It's our job to protect the people of Maine. We need action now."
Dana Dow: "As a business owner, I want to make informed decisions about the chemicals we use in today’s society. With sufficient information, I can decide what is safe for my workers and my customers."
Amy Graham: "Having low levels is no consolation. Low levels of some chemicals can be major disruptors to our systems. And many of these chemicals don't break down in our bodies, so today's low levels can be tomorrow's danger zone."
Paulette Dingley: "I try to pay attention to the products I buy and use, so it's frustrating to learn I've been exposed to harmful chemicals anyway. I've survived cancer but will I now be harmed by chemicals while going about my daily life?"
Russell Libby: "Maine has a golden opportunity to take a leadership role in clean and green innovation. That includes establishing policies that encourage the development and use of safer alternatives to toxic chemicals in our everyday products. We need a systems approach, not problem by problem."
Bettie Kettell: "The bottom line is that these chemicals have invaded every facet of our daily lives. Even hospitals, which are in the business of making people healthier, are ironically adding to our exposure because so many of the products used there contain hidden, but avoidable, toxic chemicals."
Regina Creeley: "We're all paying the price as the number of special needs children rises. The cost burden on both our school and medical systems is tremendous. The children are unhealthy and unhappy. And parents feel overwhelmed. It's a national tragedy that needs immediate attention."
Eric Stirling: "We shouldn't be afraid to issue stronger warnings about mercury in our native fish. It's the responsible thing to do. I'm not worried about business - people won't stop fishing; they'll just practice catch and release."
Denyse Wilson: "We can't be blissfully ignorant anymore. It's shocking that readily available products contain harmful chemicals - and all because the chemical industry isn't held accountable and required to adequately test before they sell."
Elise Rioux: "I'm outraged by the chemical industry and their irresponsible ways. As an athlete, I think it's ridiculous that I'm exercising for my health and the water I drink to replenish my body contains toxic chemicals from the container it's in."
Lauralee Raymond: "I feel frustrated. There's only so much I can do and it's obviously not enough. And I'm worried about the future - especially for my niece and nephew, because what we think is safe may not be."
Vi Raymond: "It doesn’t matter where you live or work. These chemicals are everywhere as we go about our daily lives. We can’t avoid exposure by simply making different choices.”
Dr. Lani Graham: "Going back to Hippocrates, one of the principal preceps of medicine is first do no harm ('primum non nocere'). This study confronts us with terrible evidence that we are violating the principle every day, with no clue as to how future generations, our environment or even our own lives will be affected."
Vincent Markowski, Ph.D.: “As scientists, we do not fully understand the combined effects of these chemical exposures on human health, especially on fetuses and children who are more sensitive to toxic effects. As a toxicologist this information is critical in positively impacting future research and building momentum towards a safer chemicals policy.”
Dr. Sydney Sewall: “This is the dark side of “better living through chemistry” – one of the optimistic sayings I grew up with in the 50’s. We need to change our paradigm for dealing with the chemical world we’ve inherited. Maine needs a comprehensive chemicals policy as a first step.”
Mike Belliveau, Executive Director, Environmental Health Strategy Center: “Hazardous chemicals don’t belong in our bodies. This study shows that our safety system for industrial chemicals is badly broken. We need government action to prevent pollution in people. We need a new chemical policy that ensures the safety of everyday products, especially for the most vulnerable – developing babies and children. The Maine Legislature should take action to fix the broken safety system for industrial chemicals. A safer chemicals policy will require safer alternatives to the worst chemicals and full health testing before chemicals can be added to everyday products.”
an overhaul in our system of public health protections from industrial chemicals."
Sandra Cort, Board Member & Past President, The Learning Disabilities Association of Maine: “The Learning Disabilities Association of Maine believes the findings of this 'Body of Evidence' report are disturbing and must be a call to action to protect the health of our children and future generations. 127,000 adults and 13,400 children in Maine are identified with learning disabilities and thousands more with attention disabilities. According to the National Academy of Sciences exposure to toxic chemicals is part of the root cause in over a quarter of the cases of learning disabilities. There is now no doubt, we must fix our broken chemical policy, we must assure that chemicals are safe before we release them into commerce, into our homes, and into the bodies of our children.”
Melissa Boyd, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility Maine Chapter: “Physicians for Social Responsibly Maine Chapter is very pleased to have been a part of the Body Burden study. As a group of physicians, health care professionals and concerned citizens we work to prevent the gravest threats to human health and survival. Dr. Rick Donahue, our Environmental Public Health Consultant, served as the Principal Investigator on this study and was instrumental in its success. From this study we now have further evidence that harmful toxins are affecting Maine people. To create change and protect the public health of Mainers we need a safer chemicals policy.”
Brownie Carson, Executive Director, Natural Resources Council of Maine: “The Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) is pleased to have co-sponsored the “Body of Evidence,” a study of pollution in Maine people. This study clearly shows how toxic chemicals -- in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the products that fill our homes and workplaces -- are accumulating in our bodies. NRCM believes that to protect our families, wildlife and environment, the state needs to outlaw the use of toxic chemicals in common consumer products. By phasing out harmful chemicals in favor of safer ones, and requiring that all industrial chemicals are proven safe, we can protect Maine people and wildlife. NRCM has worked with allies in the legislature and environmental and public health communities for decades to urge the state to eliminate certain toxic chemicals from certain products and Maine’s waste stream, with many successes. At our urging, the state has banned the sale of mercury-containing thermometers, thermostats and many other devices. At our urging, Maine now requires manufacturers to pay to safely collect and recycle computer monitors and television sets -- which contain five pounds of lead -- at the end of their useful life. We were also instrumental in the passage of a law that requires dentists to cut mercury discharges and one that requires carmakers to pay to take back components that contain mercury.
Despite these and other successes, it is clear that a “one-chemical-at-a-time” approach is not enough. Our system that regulates chemicals is broken and it must be fixed – that is the task at hand. Maine must adopt a new “safe chemicals” policy – to protect the health of bot people and our environment.”
Ken Cook, President of the Environmental Working Group: “Industry claims that these doses are too low to be harmful, but studies from the drug industry tell us otherwise. Their products control everything from fertility to allergies at blood levels equivalent to one drop of medicine in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The human body can be acutely sensitive to low doses of some chemicals - we can't underestimate the potential for a lifetime of exposures to low doses of hundreds if not thousands of industrial chemicals to harm human health. We sorely need an overhaul in our system of public health protections from industrial chemicals.”