Dangerous chemicals come into contact with our bodies every day

Plastic tapers, caps, cans, children’s toys, but also receipts from cash registers. At first glance, there may be nothing connecting the above products, but in the chemical composition of all of them are bisphenols (Bisphenols/BPA).

Bisphenols are on the list of 18 dangerous chemicals that we come into contact with every day without knowing it. The degree of exposure was attempted to be determined by a major European investigation lasting five years, the European Human Biomonitoring Initiative, in which 116 state institutes, laboratories and universities from all EU countries participated. Within the framework of the program, specialized analyzes were carried out on urine and blood samples of 13,000 people living in the EU.

Dr. Marike Kolosa-Goering, head of the toxicology department of the German Environment Agency, comments on the results of the European Human Biomonitoring Initiative program (“Special issue editorial: Key results of the european human biomonitoring initiative – HBM4EU“), in which she was the coordinator.

“In 2020, 230 million tonnes of chemicals hazardous to human health were consumed within the EU, of which over 34 million tonnes were carcinogenic, mutagenic and reproductively toxic chemicals; many of these are already traveling into our bodies,” it said in official announcement of the German Environment Agency.

In particular, bisphenols and their dangerous effects became known to the general public on the occasion of baby bottles. “We knew that BPA is toxic, but we calculated that it metabolizes quickly, that is, the body eliminates it directly through the urine”. “In other words, we estimated that the exposure time was short.” The ban on their use in baby bottles in 2011 was based on this logic, “infants and newborns due to physiology have a lower metabolic capacity and are therefore more vulnerable”. However, recent experiments have shown that the residence time of BPA in the body and therefore the damage it causes is much longer. “The burden is also important for adults”. For example, the recorded effects of bisphenol are cardiovascular diseases, neurodevelopmental and immunodevelopmental disorders, obesity and metabolic diseases, infertility, low birth weight of newborns, risk of hormone-dependent cancer.

“We also discovered that the BPA substitutes, bisphenols S and F, are just as toxic, as they follow the same logic,” he points out. Based on the results, BPA was detected in the urine of 92% of the people sampled, BPF in 61% and BPS in 67%. Industry has been quick to replace BPA with substances that are just as harmful, proving that the research that preceded it was essentially insufficient. The E.U. has set a limit on the amount of BPA allowed to be released from toys intended for children up to the age of three, while in 2007 it banned the use of certain types of bisphenol (DEHP, BBP, DBP and DIBP) in all toys and childcare items. “These compounds can be present in a number of other products, with which a child is not excluded to play, but they are certainly contained in plastic toys that have been manufactured outside the EU, that is, in Asia,” emphasizes Dr. Kolosa, “there is a large danger from imported toys’.

Traces in children

“There is a lack of information on most of these substances,” the finding states, “however 7 of them are suspected endocrine disruptors and one has been categorized as reproductively toxic and suspected carcinogenic.” Blood and urine analyzes from a total of 2,136 children living in 9 EU countries revealed exposure to a total of 12 retardants and widespread exposure of children to extremely harmful organophosphate retardants. Indicatively, what is suspected of carcinogenesis was detected in 64% of the sample from seven countries. The degree of exposure of the children is directly related to the lifestyle of the family – the frequency of cleaning, the professional status of the father, the age of the house, etc. “Thousands of newborns are contaminated through breast milk with a highly harmful substance, which is a flame retardant,” the report notes, “its ban in 2013 has helped reduce exposure, but slowly.”

“Avoid ready cooked foods, packaged foods or fresh foods that have been transported for a long time in plastic bags.”

Perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS) are found in food packaging, cookware, personal care products (shampoo, dental floss, nail polish and makeup), cleaners, wallpaper and home improvement products. Other sources of exposure to these chemical compounds are eating processed foods (mainly fish, seafood, eggs and offal), drinking unsuitable drinking water and breastfeeding. “PFASs accumulate in the environment and have been found to contaminate surface, subsoil and drinking water, as well as accumulating in plants,” note the authors of the study, “PFAS production facilities, firefighting training facilities, airports and waste disposal sites are places where citizens are exposed to large amounts of PFAS.”

The health effects of PFAS are multifaceted. “High rates of reproductive disorders are observed in children and adolescents such as abnormal menstruation, limited quality and quantity of sperm, increased rate of inflammation in children up to four years old, high body weight.” In the general population, exposure to PFASs is associated with immunotoxicity, thyroid disease, elevated cholesterol levels, liver damage, kidney and testicular cancer, effects on reproduction and fertility, potential toxicity during fetal development.

We are also exposed to phthalates through plastic tableware, toys, personal hygiene items and even medical devices. “Most phthalates were detected in the vast majority of samples with 90% to 100% in children, demonstrating the ubiquitous exposure of children in Europe to phthalates.” Children in France, Italy and Slovenia, on average, have the highest levels of infection. Children living in Denmark, Hungary and Belgium have the lowest concentrations. Teenagers in France, Slovakia and Norway are most exposed, while those in Belgium, Poland and Sweden are the least infected. Despite extensive measures for many phthalates, children and adolescents in Europe are still exposed to many of them. Phthalates leave their mark on the body causing distraction and hyperactivity, hormonal changes, asthma, insulin resistance, obesity and infertility.

The famous “plasticizers”, which come from either the BPA or the phthalate family, are hidden in a multitude of products, to which they offer the desired flexibility and durability, such as water bottles for cyclists, plastic toys, receipts, etc. “But even in glass packages, when they are sealed airtight, phthalate plasticizers are used between the lid and the contents, when the food contains fat or oil the phthalates spread everywhere.”

Prohibitions are insufficient

“The WHO has pointed out in its latest announcement that the cost of dealing with health problems arising from dangerous chemicals is greater than that which will result from their ban and their replacement with other, non-harmful ones,” emphasizes Dr. Kolosa, sounding the alarm. “The citizens of the E.U. they are simultaneously burdened by a number of dangerous chemicals that accumulate in products of daily use, with multiple effects on their health”, he adds.

In 2020 the European Commission pledged to ban the most harmful substances still in consumer products, tackle the “cocktail effect”, simplify chemical assessments and controls and limit chemicals by group instead of one by one. Since then, however, and under the weight of political pressure, it is estimated that there has been a relative retreat in terms of the scope of the measures that the EU will take. for the protection of European consumers. “More than 1,000 days have passed since the Commission pledged to fix this and strengthen EU rules. for chemicals. President von der Leyen must honor her commitments and release stronger rules without delay,” CHEM Trust Chief Policy Advocate Stefan Sawyer said in a written statement.

Before we see European guidelines take shape, Dr. Kolosa suggests changing many of our daily habits. “Avoid ready cooked food, packaged food or fresh food that is transported for a long time in plastic bags,” he tells indicatively, “prefer to cook yourself with raw materials that are produced close to you, so they are not left for days closed in packages”. If at the supermarket you can choose between a paper bag and a plastic bag, “choose the former without hesitation”. “Paper coffee cups are not, however, innocent, on the contrary they have been chemically treated, change the habit, establish a porcelain cup at your desk or a thermos if you are constantly on the go.” Finally, the regular cleaning and ventilation of our homes is just as important, as we inhale many chemicals through household dust, which has infiltrated chemicals.

The trend that will prevail in the long term in the chemical industry is “safe and sustainable by design”. “It will be about chemical products that are safe for the consumer, which at the same time have a small environmental footprint”, he explains, “that is, a product whose production requires a lot of water will not be sustainable”. This change in navigation will contribute to tackling climate change.

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