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How do chemicals end up in my body?

How many chemicals are in me?

Can low doses of chemicals hurt me?

What are the possible health effects of low doses?

Aren't these chemicals well-tested?

What must the chemical industry do?

What should the government do?

What can you do?

These fact sheets are from our print report. Download the full report (in Adobe Acrobat format).

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How many chemicals are in me?

Not known (even this study defines only a fraction of the chemicals in the nine people tested). The reason: beyond chemicals that are added to food or used as drugs, there is no requirement for chemical manufacturers to: disclose how their chemicals are used or the routes through which people are exposed; understand the fate of their chemicals in the environment; measure concentrations of their products in the environment or in people; or develop and make public analytical methods that would allow other scientists to gather information.

Companies sometimes develop methods to test for chemicals in the blood or urine of their workers, but they do not routinely disclose the methods or results to the government or the public. The government has spearheaded most of the limited testing that has been performed for the general population in studies funded by taxpayers. The government’s studies have not kept pace with the ever-expanding array of new toxic chemicals. The country’s most comprehensive program for detecting industrial chemicals in the human body is run by a government program that reported on 27 chemicals in 2001 (CDC 2001). The chemical industry provided direct funding for none of this multi-million dollar effort, but instead paid their trade association’s press office to educate the national media on the safety of industrial chemicals in the days following the government’s report release. In their upcoming report on chemical exposures, CDC is expected to release information on 116 chemicals, or about 70 percent of the number identified in this study.

A few types of consumer products, such as cosmetics and home pesticides, must carry partial ingredient labels so consumers can make informed choices. Federal law, however, does not require the chemical industry to disclose ingredients in most household consumer products, including cleaners, paints and varnishes, and chemical coatings on clothing and furniture, or the so-called “inert” ingredients in pesticides, which are typically more than 95 percent of the retail product. The EPA has compiled a database of more than 1,000 chemicals they believe might be present in 11,700 consumer products, using data the Agency gathered from chemical encyclopedias, air sampling studies in the open scientific literature, and manufacturers. But the companies have classified the chemical recipes for 9,300 of these products as “confidential business information.”

The EPA attempts to track local exposures to chemical pollutants through two testing programs, one for tap water and another for ambient air. But testing captures only a small fraction of the chemicals a person is exposed to over the course of a day. At least 165 companies have manufactured the 167 chemicals found in the test subjects, marketing them under at least 265 trade and consumer products names (Table 3). By contrast, some local and state air monitoring programs track only five chemical contaminants, most of them linked to automobile exhaust. Water suppliers test tap water for 70 contaminants, but the list excludes hundreds of chemicals known to contaminate public water supplies [e.g., (USGS 2002)].