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EU bio-monitoring shows mothers and children exposed to harmful chemicals

Nicosia, Cyprus, 25 October 2012

Analysis of 4,000 urine and hair samples in 17 European countries suggests all mothers and children have chemicals in their bodies that should not be there.

The samples were taken as part of first-ever biomonitoring survey by COPHES/DEMOCOPHES (1), two EU-funded research projects. The findings reveal that the human body is contaminated with small levels of mercury, cadmium, cotinine (a measure of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke) and five phthalates (which are endocrine disrupting chemicals used in plastics).

Six of the 17 countries involved also tested people for bisphenol A, parabens and triclosan, which are also endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). (2)

HEAL Senior Policy Advisor, Lisette van Vliet says: “We appreciate that the point of these projects was to conduct a first pan-European biomonitoring survey, and we’re very pleased that it succeeded.” However, HEAL wishes to emphasize that although the project concluded that the levels found are not of high concern, they do represent an important threat to public health.

“The truth is that none of these chemicals belong in our bodies,” Ms van Vliet continues. “More worrying is that endocrine disrupting chemicals are all linked to serious health problems ranging from premature puberty in girls and birth defects in baby boys’ genitals to increased risk of hormone related cancers, such as breast and prostate.”

In addition, the levels found are only a part of picture. The timing of exposure, such as in the womb or during infancy, may be just as crucial and exposure to mixtures of chemicals is important because combined exposures may be more harmful than each of these chemicals alone. Accumulating scientific evidence makes endocrine disrupting chemicals a major issue in public health. A recent scientific consensus statement, which includes implications for public policy, says that exposure to environmental contaminants in the womb may result in many individuals being more susceptible to serious disease later in life. Written by five leading international scientists, it now has 87 co-signatories from scientists all over the world. (3) HEAL is concerned about all EDC exposure but particularly about that which occurs during critical windows of human development – such as infancy and, even more, the exposure of babies in the womb as a result of maternal exposure. (4)

“To protect public health, EU laws should be eliminating people’s exposures”, Ms van Vliet says.

“We believe that policy change is now urgently needed to prevent exposure and therefore reduce health risks from contaminants in everyday life that disrupt our hormone systems. The EU is currently undertaking a review of EDC policy and we shall now be calling on the European Commission and the Members of the European Parliament, who are currently writing a report on EDCs, to take these new findings into account (5),” she adds.

The project tested mothers and children for a range of EDCs (mercury, cadmium, cotinine, five phthalates, bisphenol A, parabens and triclosan). Scientific research has found associations between EDCs and a range of chronic diseases (2), including:

  • Male Reproductive Health – genital malformations in baby boys; decrease in semen quality, testicular and prostate cancer (collectively known as the testicular dysgenesis syndrome).
  • Female Reproductive Health – precocious puberty, polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, breast cancer, falling fertility/fecundity, adverse pregnancy outcomes.
  • Hormonal Cancers – cancer of the breast, prostate, testis, and thyroid.
  • Diabetes & Obesity – rates have doubled in most countries since 1990.
  • Neurological disorders & diseases - neurodevelopmental disturbances and behavioural changes, such as Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s.
  • Thyroid dysfunction – hypo- and hyperthyroidism and thyroid cancer.


Lisette van Vliet, Senior Policy Advisor, HEAL, Tel: +32 2 234 36 45,

Genon K. Jensen, Executive Director, Health and Environment Alliance, Tel: +32 2 234 3642, Email:

Diana Smith, Communications, Health and Environment Alliance, Tel: +33 6 33 04 2943, +33 1 55 25 25 84. E-mail:

Notes for journalists

1. Cyprus EU presidency press release, European projects measure chemicals in people across Europe for the first time available at

2. See Kortenkamp et al, “State of the Art Assessment of Endocrine Disrupters”, January 2012,

3. The scientific consensus statement, Developmental origins of non-communicable disease: Implications for research and public health”, from the ‘PPTOX’ conference in Paris earlier this year has been co-signed by 87 scientists. See

4. Carol Kwiatkowski, Executive Director of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX), USA demonstrated Critical Windows of Development timeline: A science based tool for exploring environmental origins and disease at a HEAL seminar on EDCs in September 2012. More information at:

5. The EU is currently revising its strategy on EDCs In preparation, the European Parliament is set to publish a report on EDCs soon. HEAL recently held a workshop on this theme to highlight the growing body of evidence linking EDCs with chronic disease. See

Last updated on 12 December 2012

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