Britain's toxic teens

Posted: 13 October 2004

The shocking results of blood tests for 104 man-made chemicals carried out this summer on 33 people from seven families in England, Scotland and Wales reveal that all British children are likely to be contaminated with hazardous chemicals.

The results, published in the report by WWF and The Co-operative Bank, Contaminated: the next generation, warn that some British children have higher numbers and levels of certain industrial chemicals than their parents and grandmothers. Of the chemicals analysed, 80 were detected - children were found to have 75 chemicals in their blood, 75 were found in parents and 56 in grandmothers.

Edinburgh: The Batchelor Family

The Batchelor familyJan Batchelor having a blood test

The Batchelor family outside their house

Jan Batchelor getting blood tested by Dr Townshend

© WWF/B Kelly/Mousetrap MediaThe survey reveals that children as young as nine years old are not only contaminated with a cocktail of hazardous man-made chemicals but can have higher concentrations of certain newer chemicals than older generations. These chemicals are ones that scientists are finding building up in the wider environment, wildlife and in people. These chemicals such as brominated flame-retardants are used in everyday products such as furniture and TVs, and perfluorinated chemicals used in the manufacture of non-stick pans and stain resistant treatments for carpets and clothing. WWF is calling for stronger regulation to restrict their use to stop the contamination of our children.

"These results are extremely worrying because of the unknown long-term health effects of the majority of industrial chemicals people are exposed to. The contamination of three generations of UK families, including children as young as nine, with hazardous man-made chemicals clearly illustrates that industry and government have failed to control these chemicals," said Justin Woolford, WWF Chemicals and Health Campaign Director. "This is a wake up call to the UK Government and the European Union to stop repeating the mistakes of the past and ensure that these chemicals are banned and replaced with safer alternatives."

'Cocktail of chemicals'

The contamination survey tested for 104 individual chemicals in these six groups: Organochlorine pesticides (OCPs), Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), Brominated flame-retardants (BFRs), Phthalates, Perfluorinated chemicals and Artificial musks

Family members, aged between 9 to 88 years were tested as part of the survey. The families tested live in Edinburgh, Welshpool, Manchester, Stourport, Gloucester, South Devon and Suffolk.

The results showed that 82 per cent of people tested have at least one perfluorinated chemical in their blood. DEHP - a phthalate - was found in over three-quarters of the volunteers including children - it is a suspected hormone disrupting chemical, used in plastics, PVC flooring, food packaging, cosmetics and toiletries. Chemicals, such as PCBs and DDE, a breakdown product of DDT, despite being banned in the UK at least a decade before the children were born were found in everyone, but on average the older generations had higher concentrations. The survey reveals that deca-BDE, a brominated flame-retardant, was found in seven people in the survey, the majority of which (57 per cent) are children.

"For most parents their child's health and well-being is paramount. Sadly, our latest research report, Contaminated; the next generation, reveals that our children are being contaminated with a cocktail of man-made chemicals and there is little we can do to prevent it. We want to see chemicals like these phased out and replaced with safer alternatives before it's too late" said Kate Daley, Campaigns Manager, The Co-operative Bank.

Contaminated food

The connections observed between products used and diets of those surveyed, and the chemicals detected in their blood, are compelling. For example, it is widely accepted that oily fish contains high levels of PCBs. The highest numbers of these chemicals were found in family members whose diets are high in such food. In addition, the flame-retardant deca-BDE used in plastic housings for TVs and computers, was found in several people. Studies have shown that there is a correlation between the number of electrical appliances in an office and the levels of flame-retardant chemicals in the office air. This may help explain how people become contaminated by these chemicals.

An EU proposed chemicals legislation, known as REACH, is currently with member states for consideration. WWF says it provides a once in a generation opportunity to secure adequate controls for these substances.

Wildlife and people, not least children and future generations, should have the right to a clean, healthy and uncontaminated bodies so that they achieve their maximum potential without the ever-present worry of their lives being blighted due to exposure to hazardous industrial chemicals," added Justin Woolford.

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