When states seek to identify environmental hazards, they normally look to air and water. But the California legislature this year proposed taking a different approach: examining the human body.
California would have been the first state to employ biomonitoring, which is already used by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the measure in October. The rationale behind biomonitoring is that knowing the levels of chemicals in people, such as mercury or lead, can inform environmental laws and public health priorities. "It provides a scientific basis to do some more regulation," says Assemblywoman Wilma Chan, Health Committee chair and a supporter of the legislation.
The proposal would have sampled bodily fluids from Californians around the state. Besides giving policy makers a picture of what chemicals reside in the average Californian, advocates hoped the biomonitoring regimen would identify environmental threats that are facing particular groups of people, such as agricultural workers.
The Health Committee's ranking Republican, Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian, opposed the bill, as did the majority of his party's members in the legislature. He says that he doesn't object to the concept of biomonitoring but that he voted against the bill because it did not require the state to assess the health implications of its findings, a concern echoed by Schwarzenegger in explaining his veto. "It opens the door for speculation and hypothesis," Aghazarian says.