Toxic chemicals in our bodies show need to step up action to beat pollution, says UN Detox Chief

The Executive Secretary of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, Rolph Payet, today re-affirmed the need for concerted global and national action towards sound management of chemicals and waste, to beat pollution and better protect people from its harmful effects.

Speaking today at an event in Arendal, Norway, Payet was joined by the head of UN Environment, Erik Solheim, and members of civil society and the academic sector to discuss the latest “Body Burden” blood testing results. Testing was carried out on Nina Jensen, Chief Executive Officer of the Norwegian Research Expedition Vessel, and her new-born baby boy, Eik. Body Burden testing analyses the levels in human blood of Persistent Organic Pollutants (or POPs), which are regulated by the UN Environment-administered Stockholm Convention, which seeks to reduce and eliminate these most toxic of substances across the world.

Professor Bert van Bavel, from the Norwegian Institute for Water Research, who conducted the analysis, said that “Nina’s results suggest that the level of our contamination by many of the 12 POPs listed when the Convention came into force, in 2004, are decreasing. Levels of traditional chlorinated and brominated compounds were below the detection limit. Only DDE, HCB and PCB were found at low levels. This positive result is mirrored by the worldwide monitoring data collected by the Stockholm Convention through its Global Monitoring Plan. However, several fluorinated compounds (PFAS) were found in both Nina and her baby boy, which is highly disturbing and should prompt all decision-makers and the general public to do more and join together to beat pollution and rid the world of POPs” he added.

The Global Monitoring Plan collects data on POPs in human blood, human milk, air and water from across the world and is used to evaluate the effectiveness of the Stockholm Convention in protecting human health and the environment.

“Chemicals might be invisible, but they are in fact everywhere,” said Rolph Payet, Executive Secretary of the Convention, “even, sadly, in the bloodstream of new-born babies. The Convention’s 182 Parties have made good progress in phasing out many of the first 12 POPs originally listed in the Convention in 2004 and on listing many more chemicals in the years since then. Scientific monitoring data, collected by the Global Monitoring Plan, confirms decreasing trends in concentrations of several legacy POPs over time, constituting real gains for human health and the environment. However, much more needs to be done at global and national levels to reduce and eliminate the POPs more recently added to the Convention, to finish eliminating certain legacy POPs which still require action such as PCBs, and to tackle the related and pressing problems associated with marine litter and microplastics, whereby POPs enter our bodies through the food chain.”

“I took the Body Burden test some years ago and I was shocked by the presence of such a toxic cocktail in my blood, even though I considered myself healthy and even though grew up in a clean, Scandinavian environment” said Stine Lisa Hattestad Bratsberg, the Co-Chair of Safe Planet, and Olympic skiing champion and businesswoman. Body Burden is part of the Safe Planet movement, an online community of stakeholders and concerned members of the public, which aims to raise public awareness for positive change towards the sound management of chemicals and waste worldwide. Along with American actor Ed Begley Jr., Bratsberg was the first person to take the test (in 2010).

Notes for Editors:

POPs and the Stockholm Convention

Exposure to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) can lead to serious health effects including certain cancers, birth defects, dysfunctional immune and reproductive systems, greater susceptibility to disease and damages to the central and peripheral nervous systems. Given their long-range transport, no one government acting alone can protect its citizens or its environment from POPs. The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, adopted in 2001 and entered into force in 2004, is a global treaty requiring its parties to take measures to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment, to protect human health and the environment from chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically, accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and wildlife, and have harmful impacts on human health or on the environment.

Polychlorinated Biphenyls or PCBs

These compounds are used in industry as heat exchange fluids, in electric transformers and capacitors, and as additives in paint, carbonless copy paper, and plastics. Large numbers of people have been exposed to PCBs through food contamination. They are toxic to fish, killing them at higher doses and causing spawning failures at lower doses. Research also links PCBs to reproductive failure and suppression of the immune system in various wild animals, such as seals and mink. The PCBs web section covers overview, decisions, guidance, meetings, workshops, and webinars additional resources.

Hexachlorobenzene or HCB

In high doses, HCB is lethal to some animals and, at lower levels, adversely affects their reproductive success. It is found in food of all types.

Safe Planet and Body Burden

Safe Planet is a global public awareness and outreach movement for ensuring the safety of the planet against harm caused or threatened by the production, use and disposal of hazardous chemicals and wastes. Launched in February 2010 during the first extraordinary meeting of the Conferences of the Parties to the conventions, Safe Planet uses social media, celebrity endorsements and community outreach activities to raise awareness especially among consumers, educators and youth, and women. One set of activities of the movement centre around Body Burden blood-testing, by which interested individuals find out their toxic chemical burden, highlighting the presence of POPs in their bodies.

Press contact: Charlie Avis, BRS Secretariat email tel: +41-79-7304495

For more info on:

Stockholm Convention, POPs, and the Global Monitoring Plan:

Safe Planet:

UN Environment work on chemicals and health: