Press Release - Pollution Found in Five Extraordinary Women Leaders

For Immediate Release: 
Friday, May 1, 2009

WASHINGTON, May 1, 2009 - An unprecedented two-year study commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), in partnership with Rachel’s Network and conducted by four independent research laboratories in the United States, Canada and The Netherlands has documented up to 48 toxic chemicals in the blood of five prominent minority women leaders in the environmental justice movement from Texas, Louisiana, California and Wisconsin.

Testing was targeted toward compounds that are heavily used in everyday consumer products but that have escaped effective regulation under the antiquated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The results underscore the widespread and systemic failure of current law to protect the public from chemicals, many of which persist in the environment for decades or far longer, that are associated in animal studies with cancer, reproductive problems and behavioral effects.

“While the discovery of chemical pollutants in the blood and urine of these women shouldn’t come as a surprise, it does call attention to the abject failure of the federal toxics law to protect Americans from potentially toxic chemicals that lurk in everyday consumer products,” said EWG senior scientist Dr. Anila Jacob, M.D., M.P.H.

The women leaders have spent years deeply engaged in battles to rid their communities of air and water pollution from local manufacturing plants, hazardous waste dumps, oil refineries and conventional agriculture. And, though they live thousands of miles apart, come from distinctive cultural traditions and confront different environmental hazards outside their homes, the women’s differences are only skin deep.

Their body burdens of environmental pollutants, a mix of industrial chemicals, synthetic cosmetics ingredients and chemicals used in consumer products, are strikingly similar – and roughly equivalent to the body burdens of other Americans surveyed by governmental and independent scientists.

Every woman tested positive for up to 60 percent of the 75 chemicals in the study. Each had a high body burden of at least one controversial chemical whose lack of regulation and widespread presence in American life is fueling debate over reform of the nation’s toxic chemical policies.

The laboratory analyses, which offer a snapshot of the toxic body burdens of women on the front lines of the environmental health and environmental justice movements, set the stage for larger, population-scale research projects that could determine how exposure to chemicals in water, food and consumer products may vary across minority populations, other industrial compounds present in Americans’ bodies, and health risks posed by those pollutants, alone or in combination.


EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.

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