This section is designed to provide brief overviews of selected communities that have documented toxic contamination through testing.  Additional examples of body burden monitoring and environmental testing in communities will be added as case studies are gathered.  In each case study, we will describe the problem, the type of monitoring done, and the community's experience with the testing process - including how effective the process was in achieving positive changes.

Different chemicals require different types of monitoring. Body burden monitoring is the measurement of chemicals in our bodies. Scientific techniques now allow us to detect very small amounts of chemicals in blood, breast milk, urine, hair, fat and other body tissues. Which of these body burden tests to use depends on the type of chemicals being monitored. Persistent chemicals are best tested in blood, adipose tissue (fat) or breast milk. Chemicals that pass through the body more quickly can be found using blood or urine tests.
Similarly, environmental testing measures chemicals in air, water and soil.  Food can also be tested as an indicator of environmental contamination.  For example, mercury-contaminated water can lead to elevated levels of this metal in certain seafoods. Also, certain chemicals from industrial practices are carried in air and can make their way into our meat, poultry and dairy supplies by being deposited on soil or vegetation where they are then eaten by animals.

For private citizens interested in testing, a number of laboratories are able to analyze biological samples (blood, urine, fat, breast milk, etc.) for body burden monitoring, or environmental samples for environmental monitoring.  However, the tests can be expensive (for example, $1,000-$5,000 per person for body burden monitoring depending upon the chemicals tested).  Even if cost is not a limiting factor, the tests may not provide the most useful answers. 
Body burden monitoring, for example, may confirm the presence of a particular chemical in a person's system, but this information will not, with rare exceptions for a few chemicals, provide an explanation for symptoms or an illness. Many symptoms or illnesses have many different possible contributing factors, and it is rare for a detected chemical to be positively identified as the cause of a person's illness. Moreover, we don't know what the vast majority of commercial chemicals do to humans because of the lack of scientific research on the health effects of these chemicals. It should be noted that body burden monitoring may leave individuals anxious because of the uncertainty about whether their chemical body burden will cause future disease.  Finally, it is important to note the feeling of helplessness that some tested individuals may feel knowing that there are no generally accepted safe and effective methods for eliminating many contaminants from their bodies.

The reliability of laboratory results is another consideration that applies equally to body burden monitoring as to environmental testing.  A recent report released by the Center for Children's Health and the Environment at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, A Guide to Biomonitoring of Industrial Chemicals provides an overview of private and state laboratories that conduct various types of monitoring and analysis.

Despite some of the drawbacks associated with body burden monitoring and environmental testing, clear documentation of toxic contamination can provide incentive for further action in communities.  In the case study on Mossville presented below, for example, blood tests on a resident of that community opened the door for larger scale government funded investigations.

Community Case Study #1: Mossville, Louisiana

An Example of:  Body Burden Monitoring & Environmental Testing (Air Monitoring)


Mossville, Louisiana
Founded by African Americans in 1812, the community of Mossville is located near the city of Lake Charles in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana.  Of the 53 industrial facilities in Calcasieu Parish, 17 are within half a mile of the boundary of Mossville.  These facilities include the largest concentration of vinyl plastic manufacturers in the U.S., oil refineries, a coal-fired power plant, and chemical production facilities.

According to the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), a self-reported industry database, 11 of the 17 facilities surrounding Mossville collectively released more than 2.5 million pounds of toxic materials into the air, water, land and for disposal off-site in 1999.  Total production-related waste for the same facilities topped 85 million pounds.  Toxic release data for this and other geographic areas and industries can be obtained from the Right-To-Know Network []. Data for the latest year currently available is 2000, and all numbers are reported in pounds.


The residents of Mossville suffer a number of serious health problems including cancer, heart problems and respiratory disorders.  They are concerned that they have developed, or will develop adverse health effects from exposure to toxic releases from the heavily polluting facilities that engulf their community.  Dioxins, chlorine-containing chemicals generated by vinyl production, are among the most toxic substances known and chief among the community's health concerns.  Once released, dioxins and related compounds travel through air and water currents and accumulate in soils, sediments and on vegetation, where they are ingested or otherwise taken up by fish, cattle, and other animals that we eat.  Consequently, dioxins are eaten by humans and contaminate the tissues, blood and breastmilk of people throughout the world.

Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services classified the most potent of the dioxins, 2,3,7,8-TCDD, as a human carcinogen. The U.S. EPA estimated a 1 in 1,000 cancer risk to Americans due to exposure.  Dioxins are also associated with a wide range of non-cancer effects including altered sexual development, reproductive problems, diabetes, organ toxicity, immune system disorders and the ability to mimic or block the action of hormones.  As a consequence of these serious threats to human health, dioxins were among the first twelve chemicals targeted for elimination by the international POPs treaty that was signed in Stockholm in May of 2001.

In 1998, a private law firm commissioned dioxin testing that included a resident of Mossville.  The person was found to have a 2,3,7,8-TCDD level above the so-called normal range applied by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).  The law firm submitted the dioxin report and analysis to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), which dismissed the findings and refused to investigate the dioxin exposure.  The Mossville community, joined by other local organizations and environmental groups, protested the DHH's decision.  This resistance spurred on an Exposure Investigation in Mossville conducted by the ATSDR, a federal agency.  Other environmental investigations conducted in Mossville have taken the form of air monitoring projects spearheaded by groups such as Mossville Environmental Action Now, Inc. (MEAN, Inc.).

ATSDR Exposure Investigation
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conducted the Exposure Investigation in Mossville "Ěto determine if there was evidence for increased exposure to dioxins in residents of Mossville".  The Exposure Investigation involved the testing of blood samples from 28 adults living in Mossville for dioxins and dioxin-like chemicals.  One breastmilk sample taken from a mother in Mossville was similarly tested, and four Mossville surface soil samples and two chicken eggs were tested for dioxins only.

Although the premise of the ATSDR Exposure Investigation was welcomed by Mossville residents, the process itself was not altogether embraced.  The study was perceived as unclear and non-inclusive of community members. Furthermore, according to independent scientists, some of the conclusions and recommendations made by the ATSDR were not supported by the findings of the study.  Other conclusions were thought to have been drawn from comparisons with invalid or outdated information.  For example, the Agency concluded that the dioxins in the breast milk sample were not elevated. This conclusion was drawn by comparing Mossville women to U.S. women in a 1992 study. Studies conducted between 1995-1997, however, show that dioxin levels had decreased in U.S. women since the 1992 study. If a comparison is made with the more recent findings, the Mossville sample is 30% higher than the average level found in the U.S. at that time. Irrespective of how the comparisons are made, the Mossville breast milk sample contained dioxins at a level almost twice as high as the concentration at which the government of the Netherlands deems cow's milk to be too contaminated for commercial sale.

The Exposure Investigation also discovered that the average concentration of dioxin and dioxin-like chemicals in the blood of the tested Mossville residents was 3.25 times higher than the average level of an ATSDR comparison group.

Further information about the ATSDR Mossville Exposure Investigation can be found at:

An independent review of the ATSDR Exposure Investigation can be found under the "reports" section at:

Despite the finding that the Mossville residents who participated in the study had elevated levels of dioxins, the ATSDR simply reported that the source of the increased dioxin exposure was not known.  They did not recommend that local sources of dioxin and dioxin-like chemicals be identified and eliminated.  They did acknowledge, however, that air sampling could provide evidence of whether the community is being exposed to dioxins through airborne sources.

Calcasieu Parish Air Sampling Program

The ATSDR Exposure Investigation opened the door for a comprehensive air sampling program under the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency  (U.S. EPA) Region 6, and the Lake Area Alliance, a local group.  Its objectives were to:

* Determine the concentration of particular contaminants in response to time, meteorology and industrial activity.
* Determine whether the concentrations of detected toxic chemicals fall within State standards.

Samples are being collected in a total of five locations, including Mossville, over the course of one year, and initial data are available on a web site set up by the Louisiana DEQ. To date, the program has uncovered volatile organics in the air that correspond to the chemicals released from the local industrial facilities.

The Calcasieu Parish air sampling program outline is available at:

Raw data, without interpretation, from the Calcasieu Parish air sampling program are available at:

Environmental Monitoring Project

The local group Mossville Environmental Action Now, Inc. (MEAN, Inc.) also answered the call for comprehensive air monitoring in Mossville and throughout Calcasieu Parish.  Through the MEAN Environmental Monitoring Project:

*Air from public places, schools and residential areas downwind from industrial facilities will be monitored.
* A Sniffers Log Program will be made available for the public to document chemical smells and any accompanying health symptoms.  The results of this program will be presented at MEAN education workshops and to the public through appropriate media.

Three industrial facilities immediately surrounding Mossville, namely Condea Vista (Georgia Gulf/Sasol North America), Conoco Refinery and PPG, experience numerous accidental releases and upset conditions.  These events release large quantities of toxic chemicals into the air.  In 1999, 64 events occurred; in the year 2000, 100 events occurred; in 2001, 56 events occurred.  In 2000, the air monitoring program demonstrated that accidental releases contributed additional toxic pollutants into the air of Mossville one of every three days.

More information about the MEAN monitoring project can be found at:


The struggle for the people of Mossville is far from over.  Despite the ever increasing evidence that they are living in a heavily contaminated community, local and federal government officials have failed to enact policies that translate into meaningful forward progress in the health of residents there and in surrounding areas.  Part of the problem is that current U.S. laws do not establish any mandatory duty on the part of environmental and health agencies for addressing the problem of dioxin exposure.  Moreover, there is virtually no regulation of dioxin under U.S. environmental laws.  Even if the ATSDR exercised its discretionary authority to recommend to the EPA the remedies sought by Mossville residents, such as pollution reduction; environmental health services; and relocation of the consenting residents, the EPA does not have an obligation to implement such recommendations.

The Mossville situation demonstrates the environmental and health crisis created by the environmental laws and policies in Louisiana and throughout the nation that encourage and approve industrial development in close proximity to residential communities, which are typically people of color. MEAN is focused on achieving the necessary remedies sought by residents and continuing the work of exposing industrial pollution in their community.

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Is Your Community Monitoring Chemicals?

Many communities have developed and used techniques to detect and measure toxic chemicals in their bodies, in the food they eat, in the school yards where their children play,  and in the buildings where they live and work. A group of Coming Clean NGOs are compiling case studies for inclusion on this website and in a monitoring handbook. We are interested in hearing from you about  your community 's monitoring activities.  Please contact Michael Stanley-Jones at Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (msjones@svtc) or Sharyle Patton at Commonweal  ( if you have information to share.

Chemical Trespass: Report on Pesticide Body Burden Data
  Flame Retardant Study in Washington State

BodyBurden - the pollution in people

  Case Studies being Developed

Biomonitoring Results in the U.K.
  Chemicals in U.S. Population
  Fire Retardants (PBDEs) in Breast Milk
  On-line Body Burden/ Community Monitoring Handbook
  PCB's in People of St. Lawrence Island
  Phthalates in Cosmetics


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