The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the first "National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals," that provides information on levels of exposure to environmental chemicals.
Advances in technology known as biomonitoring allow CDC to measure chemicals directly in blood and urine samples rather than estimating population exposures by measuring air, water or soil samples.
Based on this scientific advancement, CDC said the new report provides data on actual levels of chemicals in humans.
"This new resource is a significant development in the field of environmental health," said Tommy Thompson, secretary of Health and Human Services. "It will help us to better track the exposures of Americans to chemicals in the environment and to measure the effectiveness of our public health efforts."
This first report initially measures the exposure of the U.S. population to 27 environmental chemicals.
The report includes metals, pesticide metabolites, phthalate metabolites and tobacco smoke.
Cotinine is a breakdown product of nicotine after it enters the body. Levels of cotinine in the body track the amount of exposure a person has to tobacco smoke.
"One significant finding [in the study] was the more than 75 percent decrease in serum cotinine levels for nonsmokers in the United States," said Dr. Jim Pirkle of CDC''s Environmental Laboratory and co-author of the report. "This decrease documents a dramatic reduction in exposure in the U.S. population to environmental tobacco smoke since 1991. However, environmental tobacco smoke remains a major public health concern since more than half of American youth continue to be exposed to this known human carcinogen."
CDC has been measuring the population''s exposure to lead since 1976. The new report presents blood level measurement for children in 1999.
"The good news is that blood levels continue to decline among children overall," said Dr. Eric Sampson of CDC''s Environmental Laboratory and also a co-author of the report. "However, other data show that children living in environments placing them at high risk for lead exposure remain a major public health concern."
The report said the information on environmental chemical exposures will assist clinicians and public health officials to better understand the relationship between toxic exposures and health consequences and guide public health prevention efforts.
CDC said it plans to add other substances to future reports and will continue to measure the 27 original samples as well.
The goal over the next few years is to expand the report to provide information about 100 chemicals.
by Virginia Sutcliffe