Assembly Committee To Consider Bill To Allow Testing for Environmental Toxins in Humans
The Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday will consider a bill (SB 1168) that would make California the first state to conduct "widespread, ongoing monitoring" of residents for potentially dangerous chemicals in their bodies, the Ventura County Star reports. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento), would institute a biomonitoring program under which people would volunteer to have their bodily fluids tested for chemicals. The first volunteers would be new mothers from three communities across the state; their breast milk would be examined for a number of chemical contaminants. Subsequently, the program would add new communities and begin testing blood and "other biological specimens," the Star reports. The data collected by the program would be broken down by region, ethnicity and gender, and participants would be able to view their results. Ortiz last week eliminated from the bill provisions that would have assessed fees on companies that make toxic chemicals to support the testing and created a specific list of 58 chemicals to be tested.
Supporters of the bill, including health, labor and environmental groups, say the information collected could "alert health officials to potentially worrisome trends," be used to create a database that could help explain high incidences of certain diseases in specific populations and broaden the knowledge base about interactions between people and chemicals in the environment, the Star reports. Ortiz said, "I think more and more Californians believe there is a connection between exposure to environmental pollutants and our health. All of us are living in a world with diseases that cannot be explained by lifestyle or genetic factors."
Opponents, including the American Chemistry Council and trade associations that represent manufacturers of products such as paint and cosmetics, say the program could increase public fears about chemicals in the environment. Tim Shestek, a lobbyist for the Chemistry Council, said such public fear would encourage lawmakers to take actions that are not supported by science, according to the Star. Some breast cancer groups also oppose the bill because they fear "mothers would wrongly react to the data and decide against breast-feeding their babies," the Star reports. Sandy Walsh, president of the California Breast Cancer Organizations, said, "[T]o tell women that their breast milk contains environmental toxins, and then telling them that breast-feeding is best for their children, we think it would have a detrimental effect."
In May, the bill passed the Senate on a party-line vote, with most Democrats supporting it. However, it faces an uncertain future in the Assembly, where a group of moderate Democrats often "splits from party lines on bills opposed by business interests," according to the Star. In addition, it has been placed on the California Chamber of Commerce's list of "job-killer" bills, the Star reports (Herdt, Ventura County Star, 6/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.