Chemicals that linger for decades in your blood


New EU restrictions to ban around 12,000 substances have been proposed in what the European Environmental Bureau has called “the biggest ever ban on toxic chemicals” in the world, but regulatory changes can be incredibly slow. “There is a long way to go, but with the new EU chemicals strategy and the European Green Deal, we hope things can improve a lot. But even then, it would take a long time before this change will be visible in your blood, I’m afraid.”

Labels allow consumers to make a conscious choice without having to understand everything.

This is where we come in, as consumers, and more importantly, as citizens. “We can all make our voice heard by demanding greater transparency, clearer labeling and stricter regulation,” adds Lennquist. “With pressure from consumers and everyone else in the supply chain, the chemical manufacturing industry could move much faster. And reducing toxic chemical pollution isn’t just good for business, but for each of us and future generations.”

blood matters

As a regular blood donor myself, I wondered if the NHS blood donation service tested for POPs like those in my body. As expected, they confirmed that they were screening for diseases such as hepatitis, not synthetic chemicals. Of course, chemical contaminants might be the last thing on your mind if you need a blood transfusion, but that got me thinking. Do we need to be more careful about sharing blood and transmitting legacy contaminants? Or is blood donation a way to discharge toxic substances – because contaminated blood flows out and the body then produces fresh, uncontaminated blood?

Since the publication of my book, new research has been published about this. Firefighting foams are known to contain high levels of PFAS, so firefighters are exposed to higher than average levels of these chemicals. The landmark trial tested 285 Australian firefighters for PFAS in their blood over the course of a year. Some donated blood, some didn’t. PFAS chemicals bind to serum proteins in blood, and researchers found that PFAS levels in donor blood were significantly reduced. One possible explanation is that the donor bodies actually discharged the PFAS-contaminated blood and replaced it with uncontaminated blood.

Although it is still early days for this research, the feasibility of donating blood as a scalable long-term solution is still questionable, as Lennquist explains: “For those specifically exposed, such as firefighters, it may be possible drain the contaminated blood and let your body produce new blood. This requires that you are no longer exposed. For the average person the exposure is pretty constant and I don’t see that being a solution for the general population. But it clearly shows the urgency to do something about PFAS.”

Although elimination may be a crucial step in some cases, surely the most appropriate solution is to turn off the tap at the source and prevent PFAS and other toxic chemicals from entering our bodies in the first place.

To listen My toxic cocktailAnna Turns’ investigation for BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth series on BBC Sound.

Go Toxic Free: simple and sustainable ways to reduce chemical pollution by Anna Turns is now available.


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