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Fact and Fiction


Fiction #5: 'Exposures are well within safe limits.'

This statement is both wrong and misleading.

For many pollutants present in human blood and tissue, safe levels are routinely exceeded, particularly for infants and young children. For most, however, safe limits have not even been established.


An average person's daily exposure to dioxin far exceeds government safety limits. According to the U.S. EPA, every day, Americans ingest from 2 to 100 times the safe daily amount of dioxin. Breast feeding infants get the highest dose. Their average daily exposure exceeds the safe lifetime limit by a factor of 35 to 50. (Schettler 2000).


Average blood levels of PCBs in the United States are at the levels that increase the risk of neurological impairment in children. Levels in people who eat Great Lakes fish just once a month, are three times that amount. (Schettler 2000).


The blood of virtually every person on the planet is contaminated with PFOS, the chemical name for the stain repellent, Scotchgard. Are these levels safe? Nobody knows, because 3M, the manufacturer, didn't initiate basic health studies on Scotchgard until 1998, 30 years after they first discovered PFOS in the general population. The study results are just being analyzed. What we do know is that PFOS blood levels are high compared to other ubiquitous blood contaminants like PCBs, DDT, and dioxin. 3M agreed to gradually phase-out products containing Scotchgard by 2003 (EPA 2001).

Polybrominated biphenyl ethers

According to scientists with the California Department of Health, PBDE levels in human blood are doubling every 5 to 10 years and will soon become the dominant contaminant in the human body. One important source of exposure is your computer screen. Are they safe? Nobody knows, because nobody has done the tests (Hooper and MacDonald 2000).


A recent study by scientists at the Centers for Disease Control found phthalates, a family of plasticizers, in every one of 289 people tested. The highest levels were above the current EPA safe level, but the EPA has stated publicly that the level is based on poor science (a study from 1953) and will be lowered. When this will happen in not clear. The most pervasive phthalates cause serious birth defects in animal studies. Notably, levels of these phthalates were found at the highest levels in women of childbearing age (Blount et al. 2000, Kohn et al. 2000).


Over the past two years the EPA banned all or most uses of 4 major neurotoxic (organophosphate) insecticides. Why? Because a new law forced the agency to look at pesticide risks to infants and children. When EPA looked, they found that normal use of the pesticides was not safe for infants and children. In some cases safe exposure levels for children were exceeded by 1,000 fold. The pesticides banned or restricted over the past two years are methyl parathion, chlorpyrifos (Dursban), diazinon, and guthion, all of which had been in widespread used for at least 35 years.


Blount BC, MJ Silva, SP Caudill, LL Needham, JL Pirkle, EJ Sampson, GW Lucier, RJ Jackson, JW Brock. 2000. Levels of seven urinary phthalate metabolites in a human reference population. Environmental Health Perspectives. 108(10):979-982. October 2000.

Environmental Protection Agency. Administrative Record AR-226. 2001.

Hooper K and TA McDonald. 2000. The PBDEs: An emerging environmental challenge and another reason for breast-milk monitoring programs. Environmental Health Perspectives. 108(5). May 2000.

Kohn MC, F Parham, SA Masten, CJ Portier, MD Shelby, JW Brock, LL Needham. Human Exposure Estimates for Phthalates. 2000. Environmental Health Perspectives 108(10). October 2000.

Schettler T, J Stein, F Reich, M Valenti. 2000. In Harm's Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development. Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility. May 2000.

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last updated: march.27.2009

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