WHAT IS THE SECOND NATIONAL REPORT ON HUMAN EXPOSURE TO ENVIRONMENTAL CHEMICALS?
The Second National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals describes the amounts of 116 chemicals and metals in the bodies of Americans. The report was prepared by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) using blood and urine samples collected for the ongoing National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which measures a variety of diet and health-related factors in the American population. The first national report, which was released in March 2001, measured 27 metals and chemicals. Additional substances covered in the Second Report include several types of pesticides (organophosphates, organochlorines, carbamates, herbicides, and pest repellents); polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); dioxins/furans; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); and phytoestrogens.
The people studied in this survey were carefully selected to be representative of the entire population of the United States in terms of age, gender, and ethnic group, as well as type of community (urban, suburban, rural). Unfortunately, however, data in the Second Report are broken out only by four large geographic quadrants (northeast U.S., southwest U.S., etc.), rather than by state or county, which greatly limits the type and usefulness of assessments than can be made.
WHY IS THIS REPORT IMPORTANT?
Until release of this report and its predecessor, very little information existed about levels of toxic chemicals actually present in people's bodies. The first report revealed surprisingly high levels of mercury and some phthalates (specifically di-ethyl phthalate (DEP) and di-butyl phthalate (DBP)) in certain groups, including women of childbearing age. Those data showed that phthalate exposures were far higher than had been previously estimated using industry-supplied data on uses and releases of phthalates, thus highlighting the value of actually measuring chemicals in people.
Because it covers 116 chemicals instead of just the 27 in the initial report, the Second Report provides a broader picture of chemical exposures in the U.S. That information can be used both to prioritize chemicals for further research into toxicity and health effects, and to initiate steps to reduce exposure where appropriate.
At the same time, it should be noted that the Second Report gives only limited insight into current pollution levels, for several reasons. First and foremost, the 116 chemicals covered in the Second Report constitute only a fraction of the toxic chemicals now produced in the U.S. Others were excluded for budgetary reasons, or because specific analytic-chemistry methods for analyzing them haven't yet been developed. Of the 116 chemicals that are included, several (including the PCBs) are no longer manufactured. Nonetheless, these compounds are still found in people's bodies, because they are resistant to breakdown and removal from the body.
In addition, the Report simply describes the levels of these 116 compounds found in people's bodies, and provides no direct information about the sources of those compounds. Some, such as mercury, come from multiple sources and/or can travel through the environment from the initial exposure source before being absorbed into the body. These factors can make it difficult to link particular types of sources with body burdens. Nor does the Report contain information on the health status of these individuals, so it does not provide any additional insight into the chemicals' health effects.
WHAT IS ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE DOING ABOUT TOXIC CHEMICALS?
First, the Scorecard website provides information on pollution releases in specific locations, and also has up-to-date information profiles on thousands of chemicals. For certain chemicals (those covered by the Toxics Release Inventory), Scorecard also lets users send free faxes to companies that are releasing these chemicals into air and water. We believe providing this information - and the ability to act on it - is a critical part of reducing toxic releases in this country.
Second, through the High Production Volume Chemical Challenge, Environmental Defense is pushing the chemical industry to provide the public with basic toxicity information on the chemicals they make in the highest amounts. See our status report on this program, which tracks which HPV chemicals are getting tested, and which companies are the best and worst performers in addressing toxic ignorance.
HOW CAN I USE SCORECARD TO GET MORE INFORMATION ON THE CHEMICALS LISTED IN THE SECOND NATIONAL REPORT ON HUMAN EXPOSURE TO ENVIRONMENTAL CHEMICALS?
Below is the list of categories of chemicals measured in the Second Report. Scorecard provides local information on the releases of many of the metals, and the general categories of PAHs, PCBs, and dioxins. Scorecard also provides information on chemical uses and toxicity for most of the chemicals covered in the Report (and for numerous other chemicals). Click on the links below for information on these chemicals.