Teenagers in Europe have high levels of PFAS in their blood, especially Swedish, French and Norwegian ones, an EU human biomonitoring study shows. The reason for these high levels? A large intake of egg, fish, animal intestines – and locally produced food.
PFAS are ubiquitous and can be found in nearly all living humans, including young children and teenagers. According to a large-scale human biomonitoring study, HBM4EU, PFAS has been found in the blood of teenagers in all nine of the examined European countries. Over 14 percent of the samples exceeded the health guidelines from the European Food and Safety Authority, EFSA.
One out of the nine countries meet the health recommendation
Many different chemicals have been assessed in a wide range of age groups within the HBM4EU project. When it comes to teenagers and PFAS specifically, samples were collected from 2.000 teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18, in nine countries between 2014 and 2021: Norway, Sweden, Slovakia, Slovenia, Greece, Spain, Germany, France, and Belgium.
Out of these countries, Sweden’s teenagers had the highest levels of PFAS in their blood: 12.31 micrograms per liter. French teenagers took second place with 11.26 micrograms per liter, and Norway placed third, with 10.83 micrograms per liter.
Only in one of the examined countries did teenagers have lower levels of PFAS in their blood than the EFSA health recommendation of 6.9 micrograms per liter: Spain, with 5.09 micrograms per liter.
Locally produced food largest influencing factor
Dr. Maria Uhl is a toxicologist at Umweltbundesamt Laboratories at the Environment Agency in Austria. Within the HBM4EU project, she has been Chemical Group Lead for PFAS.
“We found a couple of determinants when it comes to what affects the levels of PFAS in teenagers. Those were a higher consumption of fish, egg, and offal [animal entrails and intestines, editor’s note], and also locally produced food”, she says.
Locally produced food had the highest impact. With higher consumption of local food, there was an increase in exposure of 40 percent. Interestingly, this was the case in all of the examined countries.
Higher consumption of fish and seafood also had quite a big impact, while consumption of eggs and offal had a somewhat lower impact.
In Scandinavia and the northwestern part of Europe, teenagers had the highest levels of PFAS in their blood, while the Mediterranean and eastern European teenagers showed lower levels. The reason for this has not been determined.
“In Scandinavia and the northwestern part of Europe, teenagers had the highest levels of PFAS in their blood”
“That the data differs between countries might have something to do with samples being taken at slightly different time periods, and also that several different laboratories did the analysis. But we cannot fully explain the big differences that we have seen. This is something that needs further research”, says Dr. Maria Uhl.
PFAS contaminated areas play a huge role
She and her team also found a growing number of so-called hot spots – areas where levels of PFAS are found to be high because of some kind of contamination, such as close proximity to a PFAS production facility, or fire drill sites where extinguishing foam containing PFAS has been used.
“Measures must be taken at all levels to minimize exposure to PFAS”
Hot spots were recognized in all the examined countries, and the researchers are expecting an increase in the near future, since the awareness of these areas has been quite low in some places.
“We have established a network of experts on specific hot spots across Europe, and drafted a guideline on how to identify new hot spots and how to perform biomonitoring in these specific areas”, Dr. Maria Uhl explains.
Establishing hot spots is an important first step. Then follows the delicate matter of how to handle people’s anxiety when they realize that they live in an area where they are exposed to toxic chemicals – and may have been for decades.
“At the moment, we don’t know how to eliminate PFAS from the body. In general, we don’t have a solution on how to stop the exposure to PFAS either, as they are so persistent in the environment and humans. Measures must be taken at all levels to minimize exposure to PFAS. One of these measures is to stop emissions of PFAS into the environment, and another one is to eliminate PFAS from consumer products as much as possible”, Dr. Maria Uhl concludes.
Demonstrating the urgency of a universal PFAS ban
Of course, we at ChemSec whole-heartedly support this conclusion and are working hard to make sure the EU proposal for a universal PFAS ban – all PFAS, all uses – is implemented swiftly and efficiently.
“The fact that these levels of PFAS can be found in our growing population is infuriating. Misleading industrial actors and lagging legislation have allowed these chemicals to poison too many generations already. It’s time to put an end to this madness once and for all”, says Dr. Jonatan Kleimark, ChemSec’s Senior Chemicals and Business Advisor.