8th June 18:55
Study: Women Bear Brunt of Environmental Toxins (asthma crisis endometriosis infertility cancer)
Study: Women Bear Brunt of Environmental Toxins
Run Date: 10/21/03
By Rebecca Vesely
A California study calls for further investigation into how
environmental toxins affect women's health. It estimates the health
care cost of U.S. women's environmentally associated diseases is $12.2
SAN FRANCISCO (WOMENSENEWS)--The push to link environmental safety to
women's rights gained research footing last week with the release of a
new report called Confronting Toxic Contamination in Our Communities:
Women's Health and California's Future.
Released by the Women's Foundation of California, a grant-making
organization based in San Francisco, the report on contaminants and
women's health focuses on how women's biology and role in society
makes them bear the brunt of environmental toxins.
Women often work closely with potentially toxic chemicals and
preliminary research suggests that their physiology is more conducive
to absorbing and carrying these chemicals, according to the report.
Perhaps most notable about the report, however, is that it points out
how little is known about how environmental toxins affect women. Data
that takes gender and ethnicity into account is limited, for instance.
Historically, women have not been the primary subjects of occupational
studies. Of the gender-specific studies that have been done, most
focus on reproductive health and newborns.
Fat-Soluble Toxins at Issue
The report notes that research indicates women, with as much as 10
percent more body fat than men, are able to store more fat-soluble
toxic materials. These toxins have been tentatively linked to breast
cancer and hormone disruption. Many fat-soluble synthetic chemicals,
such as flame-retardants, are probable or known carcinogens, the
report found. Women transfer toxins to children in utero and through
breast milk, which some researchers suggest can affect fetal
development and childhood growth.
The estimated U.S. health care costs of diseases affecting women that
have a "strong environmental association" total $12.2 billion,
according to the report. These diseases include breast cancer, birth
defects, autoimmune disease and infertility. The cost to women beyond
health care include lost wages, diminished quality of life and other
tolls that environmental researchers are just beginning to track, the
"We want to ensure that the health of all Californians remains a high
priority on the policy agenda," said Patti Chang, president and chief
executive officer of the Women's Foundation of California. "Especially
for those disproportionately impacted--low income women and women of
Low-income and minority women tend to work or live near environmental
toxins, the report said. For instance, many low-income women work as
manicurists, housecleaners and factory workers, all occupations that
require handling chemicals.
Cleaner House-Cleaning Products
Reducing women's exposure to chemicals shouldn't be left up to just
politicians, the report suggests. One group of housecleaners in the
San Francisco Bay Area formed environmental cleaning cooperatives that
switched from bleaches and other strong chemicals to vinegar,
vegetable soap and baking soda. By replacing two conventional
all-purpose and glass cleaning products with more natural--and
cheaper--cleaning agents, such as vinegar, each cooperative is
reducing exposure to pollution by 85 percent, or 1,800 pounds per
year, according to the report. And, the housecleaners report fewer
headaches, spells of dizziness and skin irritations.
The report pulls together data from various studies and recommends
reducing the amount of toxins in the environment in the state and
across the country. Authors advocate a first-do-no-harm approach,
meaning that chemicals should be more fully tested before they are
approved for use.
The foundation that published the report also called on government and
businesses to provide safer alternatives to toxic chemicals, as well
as collaboration among groups to advocate for policy reforms and
further scientific studies. They also seek to pass the burden of
environmental cleanup to the producers, rather than taxpayers, by
requiring producers to pay for Superfund site cleanups in Silicon
Valley, for instance, where the most Superfund sites in the state are
They also call for better research and data on the role of gender in
environmental exposure and expanded efforts to monitor human exposure
to toxic chemicals.
This so-called biomonitoring--or study of the amount of pollution in
the human body--is gaining popularity among public health experts. The
national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta is
offering grants to states to conduct biomonitoring projects. A
California state bill introduced this year would have established a
biomonitoring project within the Department of Health Services, using
breast milk as a marker. The bill was killed because of the state's
financial crisis in this year's legislative session, though state
Senator Deborah Ortiz, a Democrat, said she would reintroduce the
"In terms of treatment, care, and lost productivity, the cost of
chronic diseases possibly caused by exposure to contaminants is
staggering," said Ortiz. "What is unknown and perhaps unknowable, is
the cost in human terms, such as the physical and emotional suffering
of the individuals and families affected and the loss of human
potential across the entire spectrum of the population."
The report appears as a high-profile lawsuit against IBM, the White
Plains, N.Y., computer giant, gets underway in Silicon Valley. Alida
Hernandez, 73, an employee at the company's disk drive plant since
1977 developed breast cancer after retiring in 1991. She is one of two
former workers alleging that the company created a hazardous
environment that made them sick. The other plaintiff is a man who
developed lymphoma two years after retiring from the company. About
250 other former IBM workers from plants around the country are also
suing, alleging that industrial chemicals used in assembling the disk
drives and computer chips are cancer-causing.
Body Burden Laws
Scientists and doctors suspect a link between environmental toxins and
many of today's most prevalent medical conditions, such as asthma,
autism, cancer and endometriosis. But with so many chemicals in the
environment, finding the so-called smoking gun is nearly impossible.
In response, California has passed a number of laws to reduce our
so-called "body burden," or the amount of synthetic chemicals found in
the human body.
California was the first state to ban thermometers and other products
containing mercury, in 2001. Today, hospitals in the state participate
in a program that provides incentives to remove all medical equipment
containing mercury. Mercury is a neurotoxin linked to infertility in
women and men, tremors, impaired vision and paralysis.
President George W. Bush submitted a proposal to Congress that
environmental groups said would weaken industrial emission rules,
called the Clear Skies Initiative. Compared to current law under the
Clean Air Act, the Bush plan would allow three times more mercury
emissions, more other chemical emissions, and would delay cleanup
efforts, according to the National Resources Defense Council.
In August, California lawmakers adopted the first ban on the
manufacturing, distribution and sale of flame-retardants, or
polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), starting in 2008. These
flame-retardants--long banned in Europe--are found in carpets, home
furnishings, computers and many other everyday products. Support for
the legislation, sponsored by Assembly Leader Wilma Chan, a Democrat
representing Oakland, was bolstered by a widely reported study that
found high levels of these chemicals in the breast milk and breast
tissue of women in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Rebecca Vesely is a health care reporter at the Oakland Tribune.
For more information:
The Women's Foundation of California:
Environmental Working Group:
Our Stolen Future:
8th June 18:55
Study: Women Bear Brunt of Environmental Toxins (fat)
Was there one fact in that article to back up the claim that women bear the
brunt of environmental toxins or did I miss something? Wouldn't such a
claim require some kind of comparison with men? Other than the fact that
women's body have more body fat than mens, there were not such comparisons.
Doen't WeNews have editors?
Article should have been titled "We hate Republicans and here is our lame
attempt to blame them for something"
8th June 18:55
Study: Women Bear Brunt of Environmental Toxins (autoimmune)
The studies have been done . . . women do have more autoimmune diseases . .
.. the question is Why? . . . Environmental toxins are a rather obvious
However, if the shoe fits, wear it! . . .The Republican shoe that is!
8th June 18:55
Study: Women Bear Brunt of Environmental Toxins
Woopdeedoo...maybe that should have been mentioned in the article. I
wouldn't have a problem with an article that presents results of studies
comparing various rates of disorders of women vs. men....but the article was
not slanted that way it all. For example, it says that health care costs
for women are 12.2 billion....but that number has no meaning if you don't
compare it to the health care costs for men. The article mentions how low
income women have to live near environmental toxins....what is there some
town I'm not aware of that has no men??
Instead it was...."oh those poor low income and minority women that have to
live and work near all these bad chemicals, and all the Bush adminstration
will do about it is reduce emission standards...boo hoo hoo"