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Boy in front of chemical tanker
4.11.03
Science and Health:
Kenneth A. Cook
More on This Story:
The Pollution in People

Ken Cook is president and co-founder of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a public interest research and advocacy organization that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.

In the 10 years since its founding in 1993, EWG's computer-assisted investigations of environmental problems and polluters' anti-environmental lobbying have made it a major force in national policy debates over toxic chemicals, pesticides, air and water pollution, and the ecological impacts of modern agriculture.

Recent reports issued by EWG include:

  • PFCs A Family of Chemicals That Contaminate The Planet, a look at the emergence of "perfluorochemicals" as a regulatory priority for scientists and officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Until recently these "household miracles of modern chemistry" — Teflon, Scotchgard, Stainmaster, Gore-Tex — were thought to be biologically inert.
    UPDATE: On April 14, the EPA announced that the agency is demanding new health information and chemical data from Dupont on an expedited basis, in part based on the research of the EWG. Read about it in the WASHINGTON POST's, "EPA Probes Widely Used Chemical"

  • Suddenly Upside-Down Vehicles, an analysis of internal Ford Motor Company documents never before made public reveals that Ford engineers knew in 1982 that the original sport-utility vehicle, the Bronco II, was prone to roll over during safety tests.

  • Perchlorate in Drinking Water shows new data of widespread nationwide contamination. The EWG reports that more than 20 million Americans drink water from public and private sources known to be polluted with perchlorate, the explosive main ingredient of rocket and missile fuel, and a chemical that interferes with normal thyroid function, may cause cancer and persists indefinitely in the environment.

    The Pollution in Bill Moyers...and the Rest of Us
    In January 2003, a study led by Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, in collaboration with EWG, and Commonweal, was released. Researchers at two major laboratories tested for 210 industrial compounds, pollutants, and other chemicals in the blood and urine of nine volunteers, including Bill Moyers. Scientists refer to this contamination as a person's body burden. The EWG web site reports the results from this study, Body Burden: The Pollution in People, and features information on the environmental contaminants you encounter every day. While the only true way to know what chemicals are contained in your body is to get a comprehensive test (which is very costly), you can use the EWG's "virtual" body burden test to find out what's in your body.

    As he took a blood sample, Dr. Michael McCally of Mount Sinai explained to Moyers:

    We're looking for industrial chemicals, things that were not around 100 years ago, that your grandfather didn't have in his blood or fat. We're looking for those chemicals that have been put into the environment, and through environmental exposures — things we eat, things we breathe, water we drink — are now incorporated in our bodies that just weren't there.
    The companion web site to the PBS broadcast Trade Secrets: A Moyers Report
    explains chemical body burden, reports, Moyers' test results, includes a chart which lists the broad groups of chemicals detected, and discusses the potential health effects of these chemicals.

    While the EWG study examined individuals for a multitude of chemicals, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studied individual chemicals in a multitude of people in the second National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. The report presents exposure information for 116 environmental chemicals measured in blood and urine specimens. The blood and urine specimens came from a sample of people who represent the U.S. population for the years 1999 and 2000. The report contains new data on declines in blood lead levels in children; decreases in adults' exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, and for the first time, extensive data on many other chemicals that will help public health physicians and scientists identify and prevent health problems from exposure.

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