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It's a bloody job, but somebody's got to do it: Community leaders give blood and other samples for project investigating contaminants in humans

2005-09-29
by Lori Varosh
Journal Reporter
 

State Sen. Bill Finkbeiner bled profusely Wednesday for the Pollution in People Project.

He had his hair clipped and his blood drawn -- 12 vials in all -- in an effort to learn how much toxic residue from pesticides, plastics and polluting industries resides in the typical Washington resident.

Though the Kirkland Republican turned a bit pale, he was the day's ``blood-letting champion,'' giving more vials than any of the nine other community leaders invited to participate, said Erika Schreder, staff scientist with the Washington Toxics Coalition, which is conducting the study with A Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition.

Most participants will be revisited to collect the rest.

`A million possibilities'

The results will be of interest to legislators, many of whom are already concerned about ``the effects of the bio-accumulation of toxins,'' Finkbeiner said.

``When we were kids, my brothers and I, one of our favorite things to do was burn plastic'' -- corregated black PVC pipe used for drainage, he said. ``I eat a lot of fruit from the grocery store, not all organic. The same with meats and fish.

``There's a million possibilities'' for contamination, he said. ``I'm interested to see how much is present not just in me but in other people.''

Finkbeiner is a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 5515, which would ban the manufacture and sale of products containing PBDEs, toxic flame retardants, by July 2007.

Though such chemicals are not used in children's pajamas, they are found in furniture, electronics and other products.

Pesticides are regulated, but those shown to cause cancer or nervous system damage can still be on the market, Schreder said. Other harmful chemicals are not regulated at all.

`An urgent public health need'

Even if independent scientists accumulate evidence of toxicity, ``it's very difficult for the Environmental Protection Agency to take action,'' Schreder said, adding that the agency has ``only restricted use of 10 chemicals since the Toxic Substances Control Act'' of the 1970s.

``We have an urgent public health need,'' she said, ``to make sure products aren't on the market unless (their makers) can demonstrate they are safe for our health.''

In part to publicize the concern, volunteers took blood, hair and urine samples from a diverse group, from a minister in Seattle to a children's book author in Fall City.

Samples will be sent to three labs, which will look for residue of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), used in non-stick pans and stain protectors; phthalates, used in vinyl products and cosmetics; and other toxics.

The testing, which will cost $3,000 for each person, won't produce statistically significant results, Schreder acknowledged.

But, with help from a questionnaire identifying such information as what products the participant uses, researchers will get an idea of exposure occurred and what chemicals are prevalent in Washington.

Labs also will look for mercury, arsenic and even chemicals like DDT, which was banned 30 years ago, but reaches food because it persists in the soil, Schreder said.

A similar toxic pesticide, lindane, is still in use.

Test results will be available next spring, she said.


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