Too many chemicals in the blood of children and adolescents

Too many chemicals in the blood of children and adolescents

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Children and adolescents have too many dangerous chemicals in their blood

A current evaluation shows that children and adolescents in Germany have too many long-lasting chemicals from the group of substances containing per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, PFAS for short. According to experts, elevated levels of these substances in the blood can increase cholesterol levels and the tendency to become infected. There are also indications that they can damage the liver and are presumably carcinogenic.

In Germany, children and adolescents between three and 17 years of age have too many long-lasting chemicals from the per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) group in their blood. This is shown by the evaluation of the representative German environmental study on child and adolescent health, GerES V.

Substances accumulate in humans

As the Federal Environment Agency reports in a statement, PFAS do not occur naturally. These substances are very stable chemically and thermally. In this way, they accumulate in people and worldwide in the environment. PFAS are used, for example, in the coating of coffee cups, for outdoor jackets or extinguishing foam because they are grease, water and dirt repellent.

“It is often still unexplored what damage long-term PFAS can do to the environment in the long term. We are therefore trying, together with other European countries, to ban these substances in the EU as far as possible. For precautionary reasons, this is the right step, ”said Dirk Messner, President of the Federal Environment Agency.

Breastfeeding children are more stressed

The PFAS group of substances comprises more than 4,700 different chemicals. PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) were found most frequently in the current study. According to the information, 100 percent of all children in the study were exposed to PFOS. PFOA was found in 86 percent of the 1,109 blood plasma samples examined.

In some cases, the values ​​are above the thresholds set by the Human Biomonitoring Commission (HBM). 21.1 percent of the samples were above the HBM-I value for PFOA, 7.1 percent above the HBM-I value for PFOS. And 0.2 percent of the samples exceeded the HBM-II value for PFOS. According to the experts, the HBM-II value describes a concentration from which, according to current knowledge, a relevant health impairment is possible. The load should then be reduced in any case.

As the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) explains, PFAS accumulate primarily in adipose tissue and can also pass from mother to child through breast milk. The GerES-V results show that breastfed children are more burdened with PFAS than non-breastfed children.

Increased levels of PFOA and PFOS in human blood have been found to reduce the effects of vaccination, increase the propensity for infections, increase cholesterol and lower birth weight in offspring.

It is also known from animal experiments that the compounds PFOA and PFOS damage the liver and are toxic to development and presumably carcinogenic, writes the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) on its website.

Avoiding contact is not easy

Because PFAS are used in many products, it is not easy to avoid contact with these chemicals. For example, consumers can do without food stored in coated cartons. Dirt-repellent textiles such as carpets or curtains also contribute to the load. There are further tips for a household poor in PFAS on the UBA website.

Problem for the environment

PFAS are also a problem for the environment: Due to their longevity, they are distributed over the world by air and ocean currents. PFAS get into the environment in a variety of ways. In this way, they can be transferred to surrounding soils and bodies of water by the exhaust air from industrial companies.

In addition, PFAS can also adhere to particles and thus be transported over long distances in the air to remote areas. Therefore PFAS can also be found in the polar regions and alpine lakes, far away from industrial production and human settlements. The chemicals from the air get into the soil and surface water through rain and snow. In addition, they are introduced into bodies of water via the treated wastewater or contaminate soils through the use of PFAS-containing extinguishing foams.

As they do not degrade, PFAS remain in the water and soil and accumulate. Evaluations by the environmental sample bank show that, for example, seals, sea eagles and otters are heavily contaminated with PFAS. The chemicals then land over the water in fish and thus also in animals that feed on fish. The substances have also already been found in polar bear livers.

“In terms of safe chemistry, these chemicals should be put to the test. Perfluorochemistry has little future for me. Only products and materials that really provide services such as health protection, e.g. B. for medical equipment or protective clothing for fire departments should be allowed to continue to be used, "says Dirk Messner.

Due to the size of the group of substances, the ban or restriction of individual chemicals is not sensible according to the experts. The UBA is currently working with other authorities from Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Norway on an extensive EU-wide ban under the EU chemicals regulation REACH for the entire substance group.

Substances of very high concern

Some PFAS are already considered substances of very high concern (SVHC) under REACH because they are very long-lived, accumulate in organisms and can be harmful to humans.

For substances of very high concern, special information requirements apply within the framework of the REACH regulation and an authorization requirement may arise, which means that only explicitly approved uses may continue to be used. PFOA is one of the substances of very high concern under REACH.

In addition, some PFAS (for example for PFOA including the precursor compounds) already have restrictions on their manufacture and use - for example, PFOA may no longer be manufactured in the EU from July 2020. Strict limits for PFOA and precursor compounds apply to consumer products. According to the information, this regulation is also showing success: the UBA's environmental sample bank shows that people's exposure to PFOA and PFOS decreases over time. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Federal Environment Agency: Children and adolescents have too much PFAS in their blood, (accessed: 07/11/2020), Federal Environment Agency
  • Federal Environment Agency: PFC-Planet, (accessed: 07/11/2020), Federal Environment Agency
  • Federal Institute for Risk Assessment: Questions and Answers on Perfluorinated and Polyfluorinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS), (accessed: 07/11/2020), Federal Institute for Risk Assessment

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