CDC Study Checks Mercury Levels in Americans


The bad news and the good news…mercury exposure in America increases with age, then declines around age 50, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported Greenwire.

The significant findings were the first to focus on a broader U.S. population instead of concentrating on only childbearing age women and young children.  Often, contaminated seafood is a mercury host, highlighted by a recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) survey that indicated almost half of America’s freshwater fish contain mercury in excess of federal safe levels for consumption.

The survey, part of larger CDC project, analyzed serum, urine and blood samples from 2,500 people to ascertain which chemicals and at what concentrations they end up in people’s bodies. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, released every two years, has added 75 contaminants to its database, now resulting in a total of 212 chemicals.

The data helps prioritize scientific research and policy decisions.  Researchers chose specific chemicals based on known toxicity and presumed widespread exposure.

Some of the report indicated:

*Perchlorate was detected for the first time in all participants.  The substance is a naturally occurring salt that is also a component of fireworks and rocket fuel.  High levels of perchlorate are known to affect thyroid function.  Health effects of low-level exposure are being debated.

*Bisphenol A (BPA) was found in more than 90 percent of participants’ urine.  BPA, an industrial chemical, mimics estrogen and has been linked to developmental problems and precancerous growth in animals.

*Lead exposure has declined since the 1970s, validating public health efforts to reduce childhood exposure, says the report.  Between 1999 and 2004, 1.4 percent of young children had elevated blood lead levels, the smallest percentage yet.  But children living around lead dust or lead-based paint pose a continued concern.

*Acrylamide, formed when carbohydrate containing foods are cooked at high temperatures, was discovered for the first time and is common in the U.S.

“Biomonitoring studies such as the ones conducted by the CDC provide direct evidence that people are being exposed to harmful chemicals without their knowledge, much less their consent,” stated Davis Balz, a senior associate with Commonweal, a nonprofit health and environmental research institute.“This is critical information for decision-makers, who can then craft policy instruments that will reduce or prevent exposures and also have a way to track whether those instruments are working.”

Sen Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said in a statement that the CDC’s findings illustrate the need to reform the law governing all industrial chemicals known as the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA).  He plans to introduce legislation early next year that would require the EPA to decide if chemicals meet safety standards based on scientific risk assessment and that chemical companies provide enough information for determination.  He also wants the agency to first take action on chemicals that are a major health risk.

“Far too little is known about the hundreds of chemicals that end up in our bodies, and EPA has far too little authority to deal with the chemicals that science has already proven dangerous,” said Lautenberg.