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STATE SHOULD TRACK TOXICS IN CALIFORNIANS' BODIES, SAYS NRDC

Governor Urged to Sign Biomonitoring Bill, Package to Fight Global Warming and Other Environmental Legislation

SAN FRANCISCO (September 26, 2005) -- Most Californians have toxic, man-made chemical residue circulating in their bloodstreams and lodged in their tissues, yet there's no system in place to measure the seriousness or extent of the problem, according to public health experts at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The group is urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign a bill that would establish the nation's first state-wide community-based biomonitoring program.

"Patients come to me and ask to get tested for various toxic chemicals, but in most cases I have to turn them away because there's no program in place to do it, and there's no state data to which I can compare their results," said Dr. Gina Solomon, a physician and senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "The Legislature sent a bill to the governor that will open the door to this important testing and help people to interpret the results."

SB 600 by Senator Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) would establish the Healthy Californians Biomonitoring Program to measure and monitor levels of harmful chemicals found in Californians' bodies. The program is essential to protecting Californians from toxic chemicals and helping to identify emerging environmental health threats, according to NRDC.

"When I have seen patients in my clinic who were tested for toxic chemicals, they were often surprised by the results," said Solomon. "Sometimes the results are good, and show that there was no serious exposure, but sometimes it's amazing what chemicals are inside people's bodies, even if they have healthy lifestyles and don't live on top of a toxic waste dump."

The bill would implement a top recommendation by a statewide environmental health task force. (The SB 702 Expert Working Group's 2004 Report to the Legislature on Environmental Health Tracking is available online here.)

Mounting evidence links the incidence and severity of many chronic diseases to harmful chemical exposure. Chemicals such as mercury, PCBs, dioxins, brominated flame retardants, and some pesticides are linked to a wide range of diseases, including cancer, neurological problems, reproductive abnormalities and immune system dysfunction.

Chronic diseases have reached epidemic proportions in the United States, with 125 million Americans suffering from at least one chronic condition, and another 60 million people experiencing multiple chronic conditions. NRDC warned, however, that it's impossible to tell the extent of the connection between toxic chemical exposures and the increased incidence of chronic diseases. It says the new law is needed to foster critical research to help answer that question.

The bill also would support the development of public information and educational materials, as well as training for scientists and health care professionals and the creation of a scientific advisory committee to ensure the program is conducted in a scientific, community-based, and ethical manner, said NRDC.

"A California biomonitoring program would be a magnet for federal research dollars," added Solomon. "It would stimulate exciting and new research opportunities for scientists in our state." The biomonitoring legislation tops the list of environmental and public health bills that NRDC says deserve to be signed by the governor. Other top bills include:

  • Alternative Fuels -- AB 1007 by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) would direct the California Energy Commission and Air Resources Board to develop a plan to maximize alternative fuel development and use in order to reduce petroleum dependence and global warming pollution, and to improve California air and water quality. The bill would require the air board to rate alternative fuels, including hydrogen, natural gas, biodiesel, ethanol and others, according to their ability to reduce air and water pollution and oil consumption.


  • Global Warming Emissions Labeling -- AB 1229 by Assemblyman Joe Nation (D-Marin) would require information about a vehicle's global warming emissions to be added to the current "smog index" label attached to all new cars. It would allow new car purchasers to compare both air pollution and global warming effects of different models.


  • Energy Conservation -- SB 1037 by Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) would require electric and municipal utilities and the Public Utilities Commission to make energy efficiency programs a priority before acquiring other electricity sources or building new transmission lines.


  • Pesticide Enforcement -- SB 455 by Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Whittier) would strengthen enforcement of pesticide violations by requiring fines for the worst violations rather than allowing county agriculture commissioners to decide on the penalty. It also would require investigations into pesticide incidents within 60 days, rather than the year or more currently allowed.


  • School Pesticides -- AB 405 by Assemblywoman Cindy Monta˝ez (D-San Fernando) would prohibit the use of experimental, unregistered and banned pesticides at schools. NRDC says the law is needed because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has allowed continued sales of these pesticides due to a loophole in existing federal law. Exposure to some pesticides may increase the risk of reproductive disorders, reduce cognitive ability and cause respiratory problems, especially in children whose bodies are still developing.


  • Wild and Scenic Rivers -- AB 1328 by Assemblywoman Lois Wolk (D-Davis) would designate a section of Cache Creek in Yolo County as a Wild and Scenic River. The designation would permanently prohibit a dam on Cache Creek, which supports the richest diversity of species in the area, and protect its cultural, geologic, wildlife and recreational resources.


  • Coastal Water Quality -- SB 658 by Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) would allow local boards of supervisors in coastal and bay counties to assess vehicle fees to address water quality and other environmental problems caused by the cars and trucks registered in their communities. Last year the governor signed a similar bill for San Francisco Bay Area counties.


  • Water Conservation -- SB 820 by Sen. Kuehl would require improved monitoring and reporting to help plan effectively for the future of California's water resources and to increase public participation in the planning process.


  • Tire Recycling -- AB 338 by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) would increase the use of Rubberized Asphalt Concrete (RAC), which is made from old tires, in California's highways and roads. The bill would reduce the number of tires dumped in landfills and improve the quality and longevity of California's roads.

The 2005 session proved to be a difficult year for moving strong environmental policy through the state Legislature, according to NRDC. Important bills that failed to make it to the governor's desk included SB 1 by Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Los Angeles), which would have jump-started California's solar industry; AB 528 by Assemblyman Dario Frommer (D-Los Angeles), which would have given California citizens authority to enforce state environmental laws similar to provisions in federal law; and SB 760 by Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), which would have established a fee on shipping containers entering the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to fund measures to combat air pollution, improve security and reduce port congestion.

"Term limits and partisan politics are making it increasingly difficult to enact important environmental legislation," said Ann Notthoff, NRDC California advocacy director. "Lately every year is an election year, and that means that special interest contributions often overwhelm public interest advocacy."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 1 million members and online activists nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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