Chemical Contamination Revealed by UK Blood Testing

A cocktail of highly toxic chemicals has been found in every one of the 155 people whose blood was tested in a national study commissioned by WWF-UK.

ContamiNATION, The Results of WWF's Biomonitoring Survey reveals that chemicals, such as DDT, which have been banned for decades and are associated with cancer, immune system disorders, and other health problems, are still found in people today. Other dangerous chemicals that are still in use are also accumulating.

The study is the latest to identify the widespread presence in ordinary people of flame retardants used in everyday products such as cars and TVs to prevent fires. Known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), these flame retardants were found in all samples, are widely linked to damage of the brain and nervous systems, and have become the focus of regulatory action in Europe and in California.

"The UK study provides a wake-up call for action, as have similar bio-monitoring studies in the US and elsewhere, to reform the inadequate chemical laws that have resulted in contamination of wildlife and individuals by a cocktail of highly dangerous chemicals," said Clifton Curtis, director of WWF's Global Toxics Program. "New laws and regulations, such as the EU chemicals policy reforms now underway, are needed as an urgent priority to protect human health and the environment from the insidious threat of toxic chemicals."

In the United States, there is growing interest in biomonitoring or body burden testing. Recent research has demonstrated high levels of brominated flame retardants in the breast milk of U.S. mothers. Organizations such as the Environmental Working Group have launched efforts to document and publicize the extent of chemical contamination in people.

The WWF study analyzed blood samples from 77 chemicals including PCBs, used in industrial electrical equipment, certain types of pesticides, and brominated flame retardants. Long-banned PCBs and a breakdown product of the pesticide DDT were found in 99 percent of those tested.

"This report shows us that it doesn't matter who we are or where we live. We are all contaminated by industrial chemicals which have not been properly assessed for their safety before they are unleashed upon us," said Justin Woolford, leader of WWF-UK's Chemicals in Health Campaign. "The number and concentrations of chemicals found are deplorable. We are unwittingly playing Russian roulette with our health because of regulatory inaction."

Editor's notes
1. Women and men, with ages ranging from 22 to 80 years were tested as part of WWF's Biomonitoring Survey. Lancaster University analyzed people's blood from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The survey was carried out in association with The Co-operative Bank and National Federation of Women's Institutes.

2. An EU proposed chemicals legislation, known as REACH, is currently being consideration by EU member states for. It provides a once in a generation opportunity to secure adequate controls for these substances.

3. Schecter, Pavuk, et al., 2003. "Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) in U.S. Mothers' Milk," Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 111, No. 14, Nov. 2004.