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Personal Pollution Index
Jamais Cascio, 29 Dec 03

Got a spare $5,000 and a serious masochistic streak? Then you, too, can undergo biomonitoring to find out just how many biotoxins have taken up residence in your body. If you're anything like the 9 people in a new study by Commonweal and the Environmental Working Group, you're in for a nasty surprise.

The 9 subjects -- including journalist Bill Moyer -- were found to have an average of 91 different industrial compounds, pollutants, and other potentially unpleasant chemicals in their blood, urine, and (where appropriate) milk. Such chemicals have been linked to a wide variety of cancers, neuromuscular disorders, reproductive system problems, and worse. The presence in the body is due to environmental exposure -- i.e., having breathed it in, absorbed it into the skin, or consumed it in some way.

The danger posed by low doses of industrial chemicals remains subject to debate. Chemical companies point to studies showing no risks (although they often refuse to release information about the chemicals to allow for independent detection), while environmental activists point to alternative studies showing harm. Even if the corporate studies are mostly correct, the sheer variety of industrial chemicals present in the environment (and, thus, in one's body) gives pause.

Even while approaching the study with a skeptical eye, the Environmental Working Group report website is worth visiting. It's an extraordinarily good piece of web storytelling, presenting the results of the biomonitoring in manner that is simultaneously clear and damning. Besides, didn't you always wonder just how many PCBs and hexafloran derivatives were in Bill Moyer's bloodstream?

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