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 determined.

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 Environmental Health.

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 regulator.

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 geographic region.

"It could be revolutionary in terms of environmental health in the United States," Jackson said.


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