Americans Absorbing Chemicals from cosmetics
Updated: Wed, Mar 21 09:51 PM EST
By ERIN McCLAM, Associated Press Writer
ATLANTA (AP) - Americans' bodies harbor surprisingly high
amounts of mercury and a questionable chemical used in soap and
cosmetics, federal health officials reported Wednesday in a
landmark study on environmental toxins in the body.
The study is the first nationwide to measure levels of 24
environmental toxins in people's blood and urine, providing
crucial information that could be used to pinpoint pollutants
that cause disease.
Animal studies have suggested that large amounts of the
chemical, diethyl phthalate, may disrupt normal hormone function
and cause birth defects. Its effect on humans hasn't been
The report found that phthalates - additives found in products
from perfume to nail polish - appeared in humans at levels
"considerably higher than one would have predicted," said Dr.
Richard Jackson, director of the National Center for
Previous studies of environmental toxins had only tested air,
soil and water.
"Seeing chemicals in people's bodies elevates their importance,"
said Lynn Goldman, a former Environmental Protection Agency
The cosmetics industry contends phthalates are perfectly safe.
"We haven't seen any documented health effects in humans from
this," said Marian Stanley, manager of the American Chemistry
Council's phthalate panel.
The study also found higher than expected levels of mercury,
which is believed to cause fetal brain damage.
While the study found low levels of mercury in children 1 to 5
years old, women of childbearing age reflected higher levels
than previously estimated by the EPA, Goldman said.
"That would mean we haven't been taking the problem seriously
enough," she said.
The numbers, based on a 1999 study of 3,800 people across the
country, may affect government regulation of toxins such as
lead, mercury and pesticides. In many cases, there are no
previous numbers available for comparison.
The government plans to conduct the study annually, expanding it
to more than 100 chemicals. The reports will be broken down by
demographic categories such as race, age, education and
"It could be revolutionary in terms of environmental health in
the United States," Jackson said.
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