The line between the private and the public has increasingly blurred in recent years as the language of rights has framed issues of public goods and public commons. Our understanding of basic human rights has expanded to include the right to clean water, clean air, and more.
The nascent environmental health movement has pushed our boundaries of understanding through the struggles for environmental justice, community monitoring of toxics, wastes and pollution, to endocrine disruption, and to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. It brings people together across race and class and gender lines in a way that few other movements do – the connections being kids, the community, the workplace. Check out, for example, this site.
In September 2006 in California the movement struck another victory –
which perhaps in time will provide us with a watershed moment – when
Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill to establish the first statewide biomonitoring program.
Biomonitoring measures the pollution in people, analyzing blood, urine and breast milk to identify the chemicals each of us carry and our exposure to environmental toxins. The accumulation of these chemicals is known as our chemical body burden.
This bill will require the Department of Health Services and the California Environmental Protection Agency to establish a program to monitor the presence and concentration of designated chemicals that are known to, or are strongly suspected of, adversely affecting human health or development.
While biomonitoring will raise more questions - where do the chemicals come from, how has the person been exposed, how long has it been in the body, and what effect is it having on the person and their offspring - it takes a new step in putting critical information in the hands of citizens. It may push the next generation of articulation around informed consent.
While it has been California's leadership on clean energy and carbon emissions that has captured much of our attention internationally over the past year, this one small step may prove revolutionary.