NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Chemical Exposure and Risk

February 26, 2003

Scientists are now capable of detecting the minutest trace of a substance, measuring concentrations of thousandth, millionth and billionth parts. This enables us to better assess chemical exposure and risk. But it also feeds concerns about exposure to chemicals -- at levels that have no affect on human health. In fact, in its latest study, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found much good news.

  • Exposure to lead, which is particularly harmful to children, and cotinine, a tobacco residue, is down.
  • Contact levels with some of the most toxic chemicals like dioxin, furans and coplanar PCBs are extraordinarily low.
  • During the 1990s cotinine exposure dropped 55 percent for teens, 58 percent for kids, and 75 percent for adults, yet the levels facing black children remain disproportionately high.

The Environmental Working Group conducted its own study and found an average of "91 industrial compounds, pollutants, and other chemicals" in nine volunteers studied.

Many of these chemicals, claimed the group, cause cancer, birth defects or other harms. The result is a significant "body burden," as the group puts it.

But simple exposure demonstrates nothing. As the CDC explained: "Just because people have an environmental chemical in their blood or urine does not mean that the chemical causes disease."

Source: Doug Bandow, "Chemical hysteria and environmental politics," February 25, 2003,


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