For the first time, researchers have been able to assess at the european level, the exposure of children, and their mother’s during their pregnancy, to chemicals in our environment. And the results of this study, conducted over 2 600 participants divided in six countries (France, Spain, United Kingdom, Greece, Norway and Lithuania) have anything to worry about : on the 45 environmental contaminants, sought-after, two-thirds were found in 90% of the participants.

Among the pollutants analyzed, heavy metals (lead, mercury), phenols (bisphenol A, triclosan, etc.), phthalates, perfluorinated compounds (PFOS and PFOA, used to waterproof the tissue or on the frying pan), flame retardants or pesticides organophosphates. All products with health effects known or suspected that the population may be exposed to through food, air, household dust or even cosmetic products and other cleaning products.

cocktail party Effect

“there had never been hitherto of the data collected for such a large number of substances, in a standardised way in all countries, both in the mother and her child. The past studies were either pollutant by pollutant, or only in the pregnant woman and not the child, is numbers much lower,” stresses Rémy Slama, director of research at Inserm and coordinator of the French part of this work was published in the journal Environment International. The interest of a study as broad : to obtain a better characterization of exposures, that is more a reflection of reality, in order to better understand, in the long term, the relative impact of each of the substances, but also of their combination – the famous “cocktail party effect”.

The mothers were subjected to specimens while they were pregnant, and then their children when they were between six and twelve years of age. The pollutants detected were, however, more often in relatively low quantities, except for mercury and mercury compounds are perfluorinated. “For these molecules, the levels achieved in a majority of samples exceeding the thresholds beyond which a reduction in exposure is recommended by health authorities”, note the authors of the study. Mercury is a neurotoxicant found, and perfluorinated compounds can act as endocrine disruptors. In general, the amounts of chemicals found were higher among pregnant women than among their children. “But this is not necessarily very reassuring, because it is known that the fetal period is particularly sensitive,” said Rémy Slama.

Least of bisphenol A

Other teaching, the level of exposure to the different substances was highly variable depending on the country. In France, analyses on 200 pregnant women and 200 children residing in the Poitiers area showed a contamination of adults to PCBS (for a long time used as insulators in electrical transformers) more high and abroad, as well as PFOA. Good news on the other hand, the small French appeared to be less contaminated by bisphenol A as children from other countries. Without doubt an effect of the entry into force of this period of the prohibition of this molecule in food containers.

What is the real impact of the exposure to these pollutants on the fate of the children? To find out, the researchers also collected data on their health. In particular, their growth, their weight and their respiratory health, with a measure of their lung capacity. Their neuro-development has also been analyzed, with scores of behavior intended to detect a possible hyperactivity, for example. “This information will be cross-referenced with the chemical exposures, to better evaluate the respective impact of the different pollutants,” says Rémy Slama. The first responses are expected next year.


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