Executive Summary

Chemical Contamination in Our Bodies

Toxic chemicals from everyday products contaminate the bodies of every person in this country. Shower curtains, water bottles, baby bottles, toys, shampoo, cosmetics, couch cushions, computers, and hundreds of other common products that ordinary people use every day contain toxic chemical ingredients that leach out of the products and into our bodies.

Thirty-five Americans from seven states participated in a national biomonitoringproject in the spring of 2007. This is the broadest non-governmental project of its kind to measure toxic chemicals in the bodies of average Americans.

Each participant was tested for contamination by twenty toxic chemicals from three chemical families: phthalates (THA-lates), bisphenol A, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

The project found toxic chemicals in every person tested.

  • All 35 participants had at least 7 of the 20 chemicals in their bodies.
  • All 33 participants who contributed urine samples had phthalates in their bodies.
  • All 33 participants who contributed urine samples had bisphenol A in their urine.
  • All 35 participants had six types of PBDEs in their bodies, and all but one had decaBDE.

“I expected that because I’m a vegetarian and have a healthy lifestyle that the levels in my body would be lower. Now that I see my results, I’m wondering if the water bottle on my bike, or other things I thought were safe, are actually causing harm.”

-Reverend Jim Antal, Age 57, Massachusetts


Human and animal studies link the three families of chemicals detected in this project to birth defects, asthma, cancer, learning disabilities, and other health impacts. For some toxic chemicals, the levels found in people are near or above levels linked to health impacts in laboratory animals. Consider that scientists estimate that 95% of Americans are contaminated with bisphenol A at levels thought to cause harm in laboratory animals.

The participants experienced a range of feelings and emotions after learning their bodies were contaminated with toxic chemicals including shock, anger and passion to act for change. Here’s just a sampling of participant reactions:

“While it is disturbing to know the level of these unwanted chemicals in my body, I believe it is important to have this information and use it to demand change.”

— Elaine Nekritz, age 49, Illinois

“I feel lucky that I was able to participate in an important project like this. Most kids my age don’t get to do something that could help so many people.”

— Bryan Brown, age 12 (the youngest participant), Michigan

“The project created a new perspective for me regarding the need for action—if not by the federal government, then by the state.”

— David Koon, age 60, New York

“As a health professional and a legislator, this is empowering information for me and I hope it galvanizes change.”

— Toni N. Harp, age 60, Connecticut

“What other contaminants might be in our systems that we don’t know about?”

— Diane Benson, age 52, Alaska

We Can Fix Our Broken Chemical Safety System

Our nation’s chemical safety system has failed. Three-quarters of the 80,000 chemicals in commerce today have not been tested for safety.We know next to nothing about how the interactions of multiple chemicals may affect our health. Manufacturers of products containing known toxics are not even required to list those contents on the label.

The problem is a Jurassic-era law regulating space-age chemicals. The federal Toxic Substances Control Act was enacted in 1976 and has not been updated to reflect recent research, including evidence that even tiny doses of toxic chemicals may cause harm. U.S. standards are so weak that even well-known toxic hazards, like asbestos and lead, are not banned from commerce.

“With rising numbers of children with developmental and neurological problems, we simply shouldn’t continue to allow chemicals that are toxic to the brain to be used in products.”

-Shelley Madore, age 45, Minnesota


Common Sense Solutions

No one can shop, eat or exercise his or her way to a body free from toxic chemicals. We shouldn’t be exposed to unnecessary, dangerous chemicals as we go about our daily routines. We can improve our health and the health of our communities by adopting these common sense policies, which are already advancing at the state and federal levels:

  • Phase-out the most harmful chemicals and switch to safer alternatives;
  • Require that all chemicals are screened for safety and that toxicity data and product ingredients be made publicly available;
  • Promote the development of safer alternatives and environmentally friendly “green” technologies;
  • Protect workers and communities where toxic chemicals are produced, used, and disposed.

Americans need a new, comprehensive federal policy to raise the standards governing chemical use in society. Some states are taking the lead to create new solutions that could be applied nationally. To learn more about what is happening in your state or in Congress, visit www.IsItInUs.org.



More than six billion pounds of bisphenol A are produced each year1 and 95% of Americans tested by the Centers for Disease Control now excrete it in their urine.2 In laboratory studies, bisphenol A alters egg development in exposed fetuses and increases the risk of genetic damage in the next generation, thus providing evidence for multigenerational effects.3 In laboratory animals exposure to bisphenol A profoundly affects the male reproductive system, with adverse changes to the testes, testosterone and sperm production.4 It increases prostate and breast cancer risk, alters brain development, and causes earlier puberty and obesity. Researchers found that women with a history of recurrent miscarriage had higher blood serum levels of bisphenol A than women with successful pregnancies.5 All of our participants who submitted urine samples had bisphenol A in their urine, and more than half had it in their blood. The levels of bisphenol A in the blood and urine of our participants are within the range shown to cause effects in laboratory animal studies, including impacts on cell function.6


Globally, more than 18 billion pounds of phthalates are produced each year. They are primarily used as plasticizers in flexible polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products, such as vinyl shower curtains, flooring, and medical devices, among many others.7 Phthalates are also used in a wide range of other products, such as fragrances and pill coatings and are found in Americans of all ages, sizes, and races. Evidence has been building in recent years that links phthalates to adverse health effects such as reproductive and developmental problems, respiratory impairment and other harmful effects on organs in humans and in laboratory animals.8,9,10,11,12 Four of the five participants in whom we found measurable levels of dimethyl phthalate had levels above the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) population-wide 95th percentile – meaning that in CDC’s study, 95% of the participants had lower levels.13

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)

Global market demand for PBDEs in 2001 was over 67,000 metric tons.14 PBDEs, used for decades as flame-retardants in products such as televisions and couches, have been shown to build up in our bodies. Laboratory animal data show that PBDEs may harm the developing brain, impair sperm development, and impair thyroid function.15,16,17PBDEs are associated with undescended testicles of newborn baby boys in one study.18 All of our participants had PBDEs in their bodies, including penta- or deca-BDE.


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  14. Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, University of Massachusetts Lowell . April 2005. Decabromodiphenylether: An Investigation of Non-Halogen Substitutes in Electronic Enclosure and Textile Applications.
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  18. Main KM, Kivirant H, et al. Accepted for print, May 2007, to be published. Flame retardants in placenta and breast milk and cryptorchidism in newborn boys. Environmental Health Perspectives doi:10.1289/ehp.9924 Available: http://dx.doi.org/ [Accessed 31 May 2007].