(Beyond Pesticides, November 26, 2007) Minnesota’s Department of Health (MDH) plans to measure arsenic levels in 100 children who live near a former pesticide production site in south Minneapolis. Pesticides containing arsenic, a known human carcinogen, were made and stored at the CMC Heartland site between 1938 and 1963. The pilot project follows the passage of health tracking and biomonitoring legislation and would help to determine whether children in south Minneapolis have elevated levels of arsenic in their bodies. Children who are found to have elevated levels would be advised to seek medical attention. Also, health officials would give families information to help them determine how they might be exposed to arsenic (including the soil, green-treated lumber, foods, dietary supplements and cigarette smoke) and to take steps to reduce the exposure in the future. Health Department staff members aim to begin the project in the summer of 2008 and will present preliminary plans and accept feedback on the proposal at a public meeting at December 6 at 7 p.m. at the Midtown YWCA, 2121 E. Lake St.
Health officials have said that the risk from the contaminated soil is low, particularly since much of the contaminated soil is under grass or other vegetation. “It’s our hope that this public meeting will help us design the best project possible for the community,” said Mary Manning, Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Division Director. “In addition, results from the pilot project will help us make recommendations about further public health actions, including the possibility of developing an ongoing biomonitoring program at MDH.”
This pilot project stems from state legislation that was passed in 2007, directing MDH to develop and implement a statewide Environmental Health Tracking and Biomonitoring (EHTB) program. Environmental health tracking is the ongoing collection, integration, analysis and dissemination of data on human exposures to chemicals in the environment and on diseases potentially caused or aggravated by those chemicals. Data for environmental health tracking are generally gathered from existing sources, such as statewide surveys and assessments. When tracked over time, environmental health data helps researchers, policy makers and public health authorities to recognize patterns, identify populations that are most affected and identify actions to protect public health.
Biomonitoring directly measures the amount of a chemical (or products that the chemical breaks down into) in people’s bodies. An increasingly popular science, it can be used to track hundreds of potentially harmful contaminants, such as lead, mercury, DDT and other pesticides, PCBs and flame retardants. Monitoring results will provide more information about toxics’ health risks by measuring how much, and in whom, they accumulate. In order to measure the chemical, a sample of a person’s urine, hair, blood, or some other body tissue or fluid is tested.
“Biomonitoring measurements can be a good way to determine exposure to a chemical — especially for chemicals that linger in the body — because they indicate the amount of the chemical that actually gets into people, rather than the amount that could potentially get into them,” said Jean Johnson, Environmental Health Tracking & Biomonitoring (EHTB) program director. Biomonitoring data have the potential to show changes in exposures to chemicals over time, to identify and assess groups of people who are at high risk for exposure, and to help decision makers target interventions to reduce exposure to chemicals in the environment. Biomonitoring projects measure only the exposure to chemicals and are not able to determine whether specific illnesses or health conditions are caused by exposure to those chemicals.
The legislation that created the EHTB program directed MDH to implement four biomonitoring pilot projects, including one in a community likely to have been exposed to arsenic. South Minneapolis was chosen as the site for the arsenic project because of the levels of contamination in the soil in many yards in the area and the concerns among community members. MDH made the selection in consultation with an EHTB scientific advisory panel. The south Minneapolis biomonitoring project will be the first of the four pilot projects. A second pilot project is being developed to measure perfluorochemicals (PFCs) in people’s bodies in the east metro area. The focus of the other two pilot projects has not yet been determined. Participation in the project is voluntary, however, participants will be chosen based on a number of demographic and exposure factors, in order to yield the most meaningful data for the projects, Johnson said.
In October 2006, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California signed a bill to create the first statewide biomonitoring program. California state health officers will use blood, urine, tissue, hair and breast milk samples collected voluntarily from a cross-section of California residents, taking into account ethnic, age, income and geographic differences, in an effort to gauge levels of exposure to toxic chemicals from common use products. “We monitor the air, the water and land for chemical contaminants, but we don’t measure the chemical contaminants in people,” Janet Nudelman, director of program and policy for the Breast Cancer Fund said. “By doing that, we can provide the kind of data we need to better understand links between chemical exposure and rates of disease, and communities that are disproportionately affected.”
Sources: Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune