Biomonitoring and Body Burden in Perspective

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Today, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is releasing the Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. Known as "biomonitoring," the practice of measuring extremely small levels of chemicals in human tissue is all the rage these days. Just last week, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) tried to scare us by reporting that they found "toxic chemicals" in umbilical cord blood.

You are sure to hear more about all the synthetic chemicals that the government is finding in our bodies. While activist groups will seek to alarm us with their interpretation of the new CDC report, keep these scientific truths in mind:

First, the mere detection of a chemical in human tissue samples does not indicate an increased health risk, especially since technologies now allow scientists to detect extremely tiny amounts of chemicals in people.

Second, almost all of the chemicals being found are animal carcinogens, which do not cause cancer in humans at the levels to which we are exposed, as explained in ACSH's book America's War on "Carcinogens".

Third, note that the CDC report (not to mention EWG's) places special emphasis on synthetic chemicals. But naturally occurring chemicals, which surely also exist in our blood, are often just as toxic -- at least to lab animals -- at high doses. For examples of this, see our Holiday Dinner Menu.

Surely, we have enough real things to worry about these days. Do trace levels of chemicals in our body deserve a place in the headlines? No. According to the American Council on Science and Health's new report on biomonitoring, we are only beginning to track these chemicals and do not have reason as yet to believe this information should be translated into health warnings. Our report, released just in time for today's CDC press conference, will counter the scaremongering sure to come from the activists, who will seek to make more out of this study than what it is. CDC's report simply measures the presence of chemicals. It is not intended to tell us about the health impact, if any, of the chemicals they found -- at the levels at which they found them. If the activist groups try to tell you otherwise, now you know better.

Jeff Stier, Esq., is an associate director of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH.org). Read ACSH's full report on the meaning of Biomonitoring.

See also: a similar take from the Statistical Assessment Service at George Mason University.