Spread of biomonitoring challenges US chemicals

09 March 2007 02:20  [Source: ICIS news]

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS news)--The growth of biomonitoring at state and local levels poses a challenge to US chemicals manufacturers who may face increasing public pressure for more stringent substance controls, industry officials said on Thursday.

Biomonitoring is the measure of chemicals in human blood, urine, breast milk and other tissues. It has been used in workplaces for many years to measure and control the level of worker exposure to various substances.

As the technical ability to detect ever smaller concentrations has advanced, biomonitoring increasingly has been applied to general populations.

Jack Gerard, president of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), told a meeting of industry executives that the council and chemical producers in general "are both encouraged and concerned about the growing popularity of biomonitoring".

"As a science-based industry, we appreciate biomonitoring as a tool to help scientists better understand human exposure to natural occurring substances and those of modern chemistry," Gerard said.

"However, biomonitoring data does not inform us about the sources of chemical exposure, how long it has been there or whether it presents a health risk," he said.

Rick Becker, senior director and in-house counsel for the council, told executives that despite the shortcomings inherent in biomonitoring data, "the state biomonitoring issue is moving forward".

He said that California has adopted its own biomonitoring programme to measure chemical levels among its residents, and at least five other states - Washington, Tennessee, Minnesota, Illinois and New York - are considering similar legislation.

The problem is, he said, that nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) such as environmental action groups "use biomonitoring information on even trace elements in human tissue to press for stringent, precautionary legislation, arguing that existing chemical control laws are ineffective".

Those arguments, often accompanied by inflammatory illustrations, can influence legislation, Becker said, despite assurances from federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), that "the presence of trace elements of chemicals in human blood, urine or tissue does not mean that the chemical causes disease".

"Our ability to detect chemical trace elements in humans has exceeded our ability to interpret the meaning of that presence."

Becker said the CDC is expected to produce a new biomonitoring report by the middle of this year that may shed more light on the source of those trace elements. 

Regardless of that outcome, he said, the industry must move quickly to provide science-based information to compete with information being provided by NGOs and as more states take up biomonitoring legislation.

Both Gerard and Becker spoke at the GlobalChem regulatory conference. Co-sponsored by ACC and the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association, the three-day conference concludes on Friday.

By: Joe Kamalick
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