«Often the weakest link in determining whether observed adverse effects in humans and/or wildlife are linked to EDCs is the absence of adequate ...»
Chemical Check Up
An analysis of chemicals in the blood
of Members of the European Parliament
Where chemicals are found in elevated concentrations in biological fluids such as breast milk,
they should be removed from the market immediately.
– Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, 2003
Often the weakest link in determining whether observed adverse effects in humans and/or wildlife are linked
to EDCs is the absence of adequate exposure data
Data on the magnitude and trends of global human or wildlife exposure is limited. Potential sources of exposure are through contaminated food, contaminated groundwater, combustion sources, and contaminants in consumer products. Information on exposure during critical development periods is generally lacking.
The exposure data sets that exist are primarily for various environmental media (air, food, water) rather than the most relevant internal exposure (blood, tissue). Limited exceptions are human breast milk and adipose tissue samples. Worldwide, in spite of large expenditures of money, time and effort, comparable data sets for assessing exposures to EDCs for humans or wildlife are not available. Such information is essential to adequately evaluate exposure/response relationships in field and epidemiology studies and to use these relationships to produce credible risk assessments.
– World Health Organisation, 2002
WWF are extremely grateful to:
• the Co-operative Bank in the UK. Without their substantial financial contribution this survey would not have been possible.
• all of the volunteers for giving their blood for this survey.
• all of the laboratories for their professionalism in conducting this work, and especially to Dr Gareth Thomas of Lancaster University for all his help on a daily basis, for analysing and summarising all of the data and for writing the technical report.
• Marie Morice at WWF-UK for her tireless energy and enthusiasm in co-ordinating the sampling for this survey and the Campaign in general.
• Giles Watson at WWF-UK for his co-ordination of the project April 2004 Dear reader, It’s a frightening fact that the contamination of our bodies with man-made chemicals is a reality. I know this because I took part in WWF’s UK biomonitoring tests, along with over 150 other volunteers, including Co-operative Bank staff from all around the UK.
I read my own results with a growing sense of unease, in the knowledge that there is little or nothing we can do to reduce our own contamination levels. But that doesn’t mean we can’t act now to reduce levels of exposure and risk for our children and future generations.
It’s no comfort to know that MEPs and others are in the same position as myself. The results of these tests show that everyone tested is contaminated with a cocktail of industrial chemicals, including pesticides outlawed many years ago and chemicals still in use today, no matter where they live and what they do for a living.
And, as yet, we don’t know what effect they’re having on our own bodies, our children or wildlife.
The Co-operative Bank is a UK bank, but we have global concerns, and our decision to support WWF’s biomonitoring work in the UK and to fund this testing in Europe was a natural progression for our own Safer Chemicals campaign (in partnership with WWF) and a reflection of our ethical investment policy.
The Co-operative Bank is the only high street bank in the UK with a published Ethical Policy, clearly stating where we will and will not invest our customers’ money.
The Ethical Policy reflects our customers’ concerns and is based upon ongoing consultation with them.
Our policy position on persistent and bio-accumulative chemicals has been in place for over 5 years
and is supported by 88% of our customers:
‘We will not invest in any business whose core activity contributes to the manufacture of chemicals which are persistent in the environment and linked to long term health concerns.’ All the MEPs who volunteered to take part in these tests deserve our thanks for contributing to a growing bank of knowledge on our exposure to industrial chemicals.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARYIn December 2003, WWF’s DetoX Campaign took blood samples from 47 volunteers from 17 European countries, comprising 39 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), 4 Observers from Accession Countries, 1 former MEP and 3 WWF staff members. The samples were analysed for 101 predominantly persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic man-made chemicals, including: 12 organochlorine pesticides (including DDT and lindane), 45 poly chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), 21 polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants (including those found in the commercially traded penta-, octa- and deca-BDE- flame retardant formulations), 2 other brominated flame retardants hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), Tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBP-A), 8 phthalates and 13 perfluorinated chemicals. Whilst many of these chemicals have been banned, many others are of ongoing relevance and concern as they are found in everyday products, from which we can become exposed.
WWF believes that this is the first survey ever to provide comprehensive data on the concentrations of this range of chemicals in concurrent samples and to investigate the findings in relation to peoples’ personal and lifestyle factors.
• Every volunteer tested was contaminated by a cocktail of hazardous chemicals from each of the five chemical groups tested.
• Thirteen chemicals were found in every single person tested (for that chemical). They are presented in the table below.
Table 1: Chemicals detected in 100% of volunteers tested
• 76 of the 101 chemicals analysed for were detected.
• The highest number of chemicals found in any one person was 54 – over half of the chemicals investigated, whilst the median (mid point) number of chemicals detected was 41.
• The chemical found in the highest concentration and the highest median concentration in whole blood was the phthalate DEHP (Di Ethyl Hexyl Phthalate) at concentrations of 1,152,000 and 155,000 pg/g blood, respectively. DEHP is an endocrine disrupter and has been identified as a reproductive toxicant.
• The chemical found in the highest concentration in blood serum was the deca-BDE – a brominated flame retardant, at a concentration 18,431 pg/g serum, whilst that found with the highest median concentration was p,p’-DDE (a DDT metabolite) which had a median detected concentration of 1265 pg/g serum).
• Deca-BDE a suspected neuro-toxic chemical used as a flame retardant was found at the highest concentration of all the flame-retardants tested (18,431 pg/g serum). It is also what we believe to be the highest concentration ever detected in human serum. Most alarming of all, this level is approximately ten times higher than the highest levels measured in workers occupationally exposed to deca-BDE.
The median (midpoint) concentrations (of detects) was also higher than found in occupational studies. This is particularly worrying as it was found at higher concentrations than two other related flame retardants that have recently been banned in Europe, in part due to their widespread and increasing concentrations in humans and wildlife. Thirty four percent of the volunteers (16 volunteers from 10 different countries) were contaminated with deca-BDE. This proportion is almost five times higher than the 7 percent found in WWF’s UK survey in 2003.
• TBBP-A (tetrabromobisphenol A) a brominated flame retardant, was found in what we believe to be the highest concentration ever detected in Europe. Even more worrying is that it was found in whole blood at levels up to roughly ten times higher that found in studies on the blood serum of occupational workers. It was detected in over two thirds (68%) of samples analysed for TBBP-A (27 of 40).
• HBCD (hexabromocyclododecane) a brominated flame retardant chemical was found in one volunteer, WWF believes that this is the first time that this chemical has ever been found in human blood.
• The degree of contamination varied widely between volunteers from the different European countries. However, the small number of volunteers from each country prevents any conclusions being drawn regarding the influence of nationality on contamination levels.
• Certain personal or lifestyle factors appeared to affect the level of contamination by individual chemicals:
Gender: Male volunteers appeared to have a higher range of PFOS concentrations in their blood than the female volunteers.
Age: Levels of certain PCBs increased with age. This is consistent with findings from the UK biomonitoring survey conducted by WWF-UK in 2003.
Recent purchases:There appeared to be a relationship between increased levels of the deca-BDE flame-retardants in the blood and the recent purchase of consumer articles likely to contains flame retardants.
CONCLUSIONSThe survey highlights the ubiquitous contamination of every single person tested, even non-occupationally exposed people.
The detection of the phthalate DEHP and 7 different perfluorinated chemicals in every single person tested is very significant, as it illustrates that chemicals, that have not been phased out, are contaminating us to the same extent as older, banned chemicals such as DDT, HCB and PCBs. We have shown that the chemicals that industry insists are safe are in fact accumulating in our bodies in the same way as hazardous chemicals have in the past.
The findings demonstrate the nonsense of industry’s insistence that their chemicals are under ‘adequate control’ (despite the fact that the vast majority of which have no safety data). WWF believes that historic data, reinforced by the findings in this survey, show that industry have failed to protect everyday consumers from exposure to their hazardous chemicals and also highlights that it is impossible to adequately control chemicals that are persistent and bioaccumulative.
It is extremely difficult to determine what the potential health effects may be of exposure to the levels and cocktail of chemicals identified in this study. There are great uncertainties in assessing what might be considered a safe level of exposure to hazardous man-made chemicals, especially when they persist in the body for long periods. This is due in part to the lack of toxicity data and exposure data for the vast majority of chemicals people are exposed. WWF does not suggest that exposure to a certain chemical at a certain concentration will cause a particular adverse effect, neither do we accept that continuing exposure of the whole population, and especially of unborn children and developing infants, to a cocktail of hazardous chemicals can be considered “safe” or acceptable.
WWF believes that the best way to stop this ongoing chemical contamination and the threat to future generations is to prevent the manufacture and use of chemicals that are found in elevated concentrations in biological fluids such as blood and breast milk.
8 Learning the lessons?
We need look no further than this very survey to see that current national and EU chemical regulations are proving inadequate at protecting us and the environment against contamination by persistent and bioaccumulative chemicals.
Persistent and bioaccumulative chemicals that have been banned for decades continue to contaminate people across Europe, and they are now accompanied by other chemicals with similar properties which are still being produced and released into the environmental. It appears that the concentrations of certain of the ‘newer’ chemicals, such as PFOS and octa-BDE, correlate well with those of the “old use” chemicals – such as PCBs and organochlorine pesticides, which have been banned in the EU for decades. This indicates that the newer chemicals may behave in similar ways in the body. This highlights the fact that Regulators have not learned the lessons from past experiences of the adverse effect that these chemicals have on people and wildlife.
The Current EU Regulatory Opportunity - REACH The proposed new EU chemicals regulation known as REACH – the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals – provides a once in a generation opportunity to secure adequate controls for these substances. The proposals could help establish a robust system of regulation that protects present and future generations from exposure to toxic chemicals. However, the proposals aren’t tough enough as they stand, as the authorisation process will fail to ensure that chemicals of very high concern – such as very persistent, very bioaccumulative (vPvB) and hormone (or endocrine) disrupting chemicals (EDCs) – are phased out even when safer alternatives are available.
If the Members of the European Parliament and European Governments strengthen the proposals as we outline above, the new legislation will yield a more progressive, precautionary and science-based chemicals policy, which will encourage industry to innovate in order to produce greener and safer products.
RECOMMENDATIONSThe number, types and concentrations of chemicals found in this survey, and by extrapolation the European population in general, are unacceptable. It appears to be a lottery as to whether, where, when, how and to what extent we are exposed to chemicals that accumulate in our bodies and potentially interfere with our hormone systems. More needs to be done to protect ourselves and future generations of
people and wildlife from the insidious threat of chemical contamination. WWF recommends that:
1. The governments of the EU should do all in their power to protect future generations of humans and wildlife by ensuring that REACH requires persistent, bioaccumulative and other hazardous chemicals to be removed from the market. Such measures would reduce the continuing exposure of people and the environment. In particular, governments should support strict conditions for authorising chemicals
under REACH. This must include: