Norwegian children have many environmental contaminants in their bodies
Children and adolescents have many environmental contaminants in their bodies, with a large proportion having higher levels of Bisphenol A (BPA) and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) than are considered safe, according to a new report from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
Almost all the 669 children (99.6 %) in the study exceeded safe levels for BPA, and almost a third for PFAS (28.6 %).
“We are particularly concerned about substances that accumulate in the body over time because they are excreted so slowly, such as many PFAS. The results of the study emphasise the need to introduce measures at a community level to reduce exposure to BPA and PFAS in the population,” says Line Småstuen Haug, head of the Environmental Biobank and senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
About the study
The Environmental Biobank at the institute collected samples of urine and blood from 669 children and adolescents aged 7-14 years who were living in different parts of Norway, to measure the level of environmental contaminants in their bodies. The new report presents results from the children who participated in 2016-2017. The Environmental Biobank is a sub-study of the Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Study (MoBa).
What are environmental contaminants?
Environmental contaminants are substances in air, food, drinking water and consumer products to which we are exposed daily. Such substances can be harmful to not just our health, but also to the health of current and future generations.
In the Environmental Biobank's study, 81 different environmental contaminants within the groups phthalates, phenols, pesticides, flame retardants, PFAS and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were measured in urine and blood samples from the children.
How do we ingest environmental contaminants?
Various types of food are the main source of many environmental contaminants. Other sources include air, drinking water and consumer products.
“The environmental contaminants we studied are man-made synthetic substances that are used in a wide range of products because of their beneficial properties. For example, they may soften plastic, prevent fire, increase durability, or make products water-repellent. Many of the substances are stable and remain in the environment for a long time, while others break down quickly,” explains Line Småstuen Haug.
Similar levels in other European countries
The levels of most of the environmental contaminants we found in this study are largely equivalent to those found in the other comparable European studies, which are part of the European Human Biomonitoring Initiative (HBM4EU) project.
Community level measures and monitoring
Norway has worked for many years to regulate the use of PFAS, and together with Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany recently drew up a proposal to ban the entire group of PFAS in the EU/EEA. The European Commission has also introduced limit values for the content of certain PFAS in selected foodstuff and in drinking water, which will be implemented in Norway.
“Even though levels of several PFAS have decreased significantly since the 2000s, the results from the Environmental Biobank highlight the need to introduce more measures. Studies have also shown that levels of BPA have decreased over the last decade in several countries. Regardless, the results from the Environmental Biobank are concerning, since BPA can have harmful effects on the immune system and reproduction,” emphasises Småstuen Haug.
“Regular monitoring of environmental contaminants in the population is important. Then we can discover new environmental contaminants and follow trends that show whether measures are having any effect. Through the Environmental Biobank, we can monitor how many environmental contaminants we ingest and to what extent these can increase the risk of health problems,” she adds.
New data collection in the Environmental Biobank
A new data collection in the Environmental Biobank will begin in spring 2024, when a selected group from the Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Study (MoBa) will be invited to participate.