The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Stephenie Hendricks 415 258-9151, Margie Kelly, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, (541) 344-2282,

Toxic Chemicals Found in Doctors and Nurses

New Biomonitoring Study Detects Four Chemicals on EPA’s Recently Announced Top Priority List


Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) in partnership with
American Nurses Association (ANA) and Health Care Without Harm (HCWH)
released the "Hazardous Chemicals In Health Care"
report today, detailing the first investigation ever of chemicals found
in the bodies of health care professionals. The inquiry found that all
of the 20 participants had toxic chemicals associated with health care
in their bodies. Each participant had at least 24 individual chemicals
present, four of which are on the recently released Environmental
Protection Agency list of priority chemicals for regulation. These
chemicals are all associated with chronic illness and physical

"The health care profession is asking whether we can reduce
prevalence of disease by changing the way we manage chemicals. Nurses
and doctors volunteered for this study because they believe it is their
responsibility to better understand how chemicals impact human health,"
explained Kristen Welker-Hood, ScD, MSN, RN, director
of Environment and Health Programs, Physicians For Social
Responsibility, co- principal investigator and a co-author of the

Other findings include:

  • Eighteen of the same chemicals were detected in every single participant
  • All twenty participants had at least five of the six major types of chemicals tested
  • Thirteen participants tested positive for all six of these major chemical types
  • All participants had bisphenol A, phthalates, PBDEs and PFCs,
    priority chemicals for regulation by the EPA and associated with
    chronic illness such as cancer and endocrine malfunction

Twelve doctors and eight nurses, two in each of 10 states - Alaska,
California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New
York, Oregon, and Washington - were tested for the presence of six
major chemical types used in the health care setting that are
associated with health problems and are pervasive in our environment.

"Simply put, we are being 'polluted' by exposure to chemicals used
in health care. This study demonstrates the urgent need to find safer
alternatives to toxic chemicals whenever possible; to demand adequate
information on the health effects of chemicals; and to require
manufacturers to fully disclose the potential risks of their products
and their components, for the safety of both health care professionals
and the communities we serve," added ANA President Rebecca M. Patton, MSN, RN, CNOR.

The Hazardous Chemicals in Health Care report offers preliminary
indicators of what the broader health care community may be
experiencing. The project tested for 62 distinct chemicals in six
categories: bisphenol A, mercury, perflourinated compounds, phthalates,
polybrominated diphenyl ethers, and triclosan. The chemicals tested in
the investigation are used in products common to the health care
setting, from baby bottles, hand sanitizer, and medical gauges, to
industrial paints, IV bags and tubes and stain-resistant clothing.

Project participant Dr. Sean Palfrey, professor of
pediatrics and public health at Boston University School of Medicine,
and medical director of Boston's Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
says, "I was tested for chemicals that have been associated with
certain diseases whose incidences are on the rise. If we as physicians
are to understand our patients' health problems - from cancer to
neurological harm to reproductive dysfunctions - we need to take a look
at chemical exposure in our bodies."

Another participant Dr. George Lundgren, a family
practice physician from Minneapolis Minnesota said upon learning his
results "When you do find out some of the specific unnatural chemicals
in your body it is hard to deny, minimize, rationalize or justify their
presence. It is disturbing to know the only body I have is permanently

The Centers for Disease Control National Biomonitoring Project has
found synthetic chemicals linked to health problems are present in
every American. Overall, PSR's test results were consistent with the
findings by the CDC, with the exception of a specific type of toxic
chemical, dimethyl phthalate, which was found at levels above the CDC's
95th percentile. Future biomonitoring may illuminate a work source of
exposure to dimethyl phthalate, which is used in insecticides, hair
spray and other personal care items, rocket fuel and more.

"Our nation is experiencing an epidemic of chronic health problems,
some of which clearly have links to chemicals in our environment,"
stated Anna Gilmore Hall, executive director of
Health Care Without Harm. "Reducing chemical exposures is an important
primary prevention measure to help improve the health of our nation and
the expense of providing health care." Gilmore Hall wrote the study

PSR, ANA and HCWH have joined the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families
campaign, a diverse and growing coalition of organizations, businesses
and individuals united by concern about the toxic chemicals in our
homes, places of work and in products used every day. The coalition is
working to reform the federal law governing toxic chemicals, the Toxic
Substance Control Act (TSCA) calling for eliminating the most dangerous
chemicals from commerce, holding chemical companies responsible for
information about health and environmental impacts of chemicals, and
using the best science to protect all people and vulnerable groups,
including children. (see

"Stronger laws are necessary to keep us safe from toxic chemicals.
In 33 years, the EPA has tested for safety only 200 and banned only
five of the more than 80,000 chemicals in commerce. We need to do
better to protect public health," says Charlotte Brody, RN, Health Care Without Harm Board Member, registered nurse, and National Field Director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. The report can be found here.
In addition to data on testing, the report includes recommendations on
how health care professionals can protect their patients and themselves
by avoiding the use of toxic chemicals.

Physicians for Social Responsibility mobilizes physicians and health professionals to advocate for climate solutions and a nuclear weapons-free world. PSR's health advocates contribute a health voice to energy, environmental health and nuclear weapons policy at the local, federal and international level.