By MEGAN HOLLAND
Want to know what toxic chemicals are floating around in congressional candidate Ethan Berkowitz's blood? How about in an Alaska fisherman's urine? Both men participated in a national study on detecting what compounds from common household products stay with us.
The results? Not good for either of them, according to Alaska Community Action on Toxics. The nonprofit is pushing for legislation to ban what it says is poisoning us -- substances used mostly to make plastics.
The chemical groups tested have scary names: Phthalates, Bisphenol A (BPA), and Polybrominated diphenol ethers (PBDEs).
The first are used in vinyl products like shower curtains and rubber duckies. The second are used to make baby bottles and linings of metal food cans. The third are toxic flame-retardants added to plastic on things like televisions and computers.
PBDEs were found in very high rates in both Berkowitz, 45, and the Haines fisherman, 54-year-old Tim June, an environmental activist who co-founded Alaska Clean Water Alliance. Both volunteered with three other Alaskans and 30 other Americans for the national study called "Is It In Us?" done by a coalition working for greater regulation of manufacturers using the chemicals.
"It's no great source of pride that I have some of the highest levels among the participants across the 50 states," Berkowitz said after a press conference in Anchorage on Thursday.
"It could be that I spend too much time in front of the computer. It could be that my mattress has bad chemicals in it. It could be too much time in airplanes. It could be the cell phone. I just don't know what it is," said the former state House minority leader. "But it is more than my individual use of products that's contributing to this. Everyone of us that participated in this project has different personal habits and everyone of us has some level."
The hazardous products on display at the press conference included a Nalgene bottle, a toaster, a My Little Pony and a rain jacket.
The study sponsors say the chemicals have been linked to birth defects, cancer, infertility and a host of other health problems. But it's not clear if any of the pollutants is making anyone sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which says more research is needed.
Patricia Hunt, a molecular expert at Washington State University who was not part of the study, said BPAs are of particular concern because a growing body of literature shows that even a low dose may affect fetal development.
Phthalates, used to soften plastics, have been banned in toys in Europe. California has imposed a similar ban on certain types of Phthalates in toys beginning in 2009. California also has a ban on certain types of PBDEs which takes effect in 2008.
In Alaska, Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau, plans to present a bill banning PBDEs.
Pamela Miller, executive director of the Alaska anti-toxic group, said the chemicals may be getting into us from food containers, or maybe from breathing them, for example, when we take hot showers and the plastics on the shower curtain are released. They are also found in household dust, she said.
"The problem is they're everywhere in our environment," Hunt said. "You can't actually see when you are being exposed. ...We can't go completely crazy because it's impossible to really remove plastics from our lives. But we can think differently about how we use it."
She no longer microwaves food in plastic containers, she said. She also doesn't put them in her dishwasher because the heat may be releasing the chemicals.
The other Alaskans who volunteered to be tested were Cathy Rexford, the Alaska director of Native Movement; Lori Townsend, an Alaska News Nightly journalist; and Democratic congressional candidate Diane Benson.
Find Megan Holland online at adn.com/contact/mholland or call 257-4343.