Be Afraid Of What You’re Made Of, Study Says
By WILLIAM HATHAWAY
Be Afraid Of What You’re Made Of, Study SaysA mother of two daughters and certified school psychologist, Laura Anderson has long suspected there is an environmental cause to the learning disabilities, childhood cancers and autism that she sees at schools and in her own neighborhood.
Thursday, the 45-year old Wethersfield woman’s own body gave her a couple of potential culprits.
Anderson was one of 35 people from seven states whose lab tests revealed numerous potentially toxic chemicals in their blood and urine. All 35 participants in the “Is It In Us?” project were found to have such chemicals in their bodies.
Previous government tests have shown that most Americans on any given day are carrying around chemicals contained in a host of everyday items such as the plastic of water bottles or the cans of tuna.
The press conference held by a coalition of Connecticut environmental groups on Thursday gave chemical names and local faces to the vague fears of millions of Americans like Anderson
“I lead a health-conscious life,” said Nancy Simcox, 42, of Middlefield who has worked as an environmental health researcher and was one of five Connecticut women who found they had been exposed to the chemicals. “They don’t belong in my body.”
The biomonitoring project, sponsored by a variety of environmental groups across the country, tested the subjects for 20 toxic substances in three classes of chemicals: phthalates, bisphenol A, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs. The chemicals are found in products such as shower curtains, baby bottles, children’s toys, cosmetics, couch cushions and computers.
Simcox and Anderson, as well as state Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven – herself a test subject – attended the press conference organized by the Coalition for a Safe & Healthy Connecticut and revealed that tests showed they had most of the chemicals in their bodies.
There is scientific debate about whether exposure to these chemicals in the quantities found in common products poses a health risk for Americans. A definitive answer won’t be available soon, experts say.
“In order to answer that question, we need long-term and large-scale toxicity studies, and those are hugely expensive,” said James Kapin, who sits on the health and safety executive committee of the American Chemical Society, which represents chemists. “We depend upon laboratory studies, but those do not always give us good data on human toxicity.”
However, research leaves little doubt that chemicals at least have the potential to cause significant harm to living organisms, and many environmentalists say they should be banned. Most of the chemicals act on hormones and can be particularly dangerous during early development. They have been linked to birth defects, infertility and learning disabilities. Other studies have suggested they may be associated with some forms of cancer and even asthma. And although the body tends to rid itself of bisphenol A and the phthalates, PBDEs, which are commonly found in fire retardant materials, accumulate in tissue over time.
Anderson is generally healthy but sometimes wonders whether her bouts with endometriosis, or growth of the tissue that lines the uterus in abnormal locations, was caused by the chemicals.
“My mother says, `Your grandmother had the same problem and she wasn’t exposed to any of these things,'” Anderson said.
Although she knows there is no definitive proof the chemicals are at the root of the illnesses she sees at schools, she suspects they might play a role.
Anderson said she now uses glasses rather than plastic cups and tries to stay away from products with plastic packaging.
“Instead of buying the canned tomatoes when I make spaghetti sauce, I use the sauce in jars,” she said. “But it is almost impossible to get away from all the products.”
At the same time, she loves the convenience of the products that contain those same chemicals she is concerned about.
“I just wish there were safer alternatives,” she said.
Dr. Mark Mitchell, president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, said there are safer alternatives and that government should be more aggressive in regulating harmful chemicals.