Brno research centre undertaking comprehensive study on impact of toxins on human health
Researchers from Brno’s Masaryk University are engaged in an extensive study mapping the effects of toxic substances in the environment on the health of the population. An EU grant for a modern biobank will enable them to take further a pan-European project that Brno scientists joined in 1991. The aim is to study the impact of the environment from embryo stage through life, on three generations of people. Jana Klánová, head of the Brno-based Research Centre for Toxic Compounds in the Environment, explains what kind of research this involves.
Do you study the use of cosmetics as well?
“A Scandinavian study tried to assess the major source of endocrine disruptors for pregnant women and children and they found that it was actually cosmetics.”
“That’s something we are looking at right now. Most of the environmental institutes focussed on the outdoor environment, predominantly the quality of air, but nowadays it has been recognized that we have to look at other types of chemical exposure which is indoors and that includes cosmetics. There was a study performed in the Scandinavian countries focussing on lifestyle and the use of cosmetics, conducted on a group of pregnant women and their children, which tried to assess the major source of endocrine disruptors for the women and children and they found that it was actually the cosmetics, not the air or something else that was the major cause. So we figure that cosmetics and consumer products are a very important source. We already did some research on consumer products and the chemicals found in building materials, carpeting, furniture, computers and these kind of things. Because as I said, you spend 90 percent of your time in your home and when you think about chemical exposure on the human population there are basically three exposure pathways: one is through respiration, so you have to look at the quality of outdoor air and indoor air, but also the dust that we breathe, the second is dietary, meaning what we eat and it is important to look into the contents of food and especially fatty food that can contain a lot of chemicals (for small children dietary exposure can include household dust because they spend a lot of time on the floor putting things into their mouth) and the third exposure pathway is dermal, some of the cosmetics we use penetrate into the body.”
Do you feel that this danger –household toxins – has been underestimated?
And in this study do you compare people living in big cities and those living in a clean environment who live a simple life and do not encounter so many household toxins?
“We are using much more chemicals and we do not really have enough information about them.”
“The question is what you can call a clean environment. We have studies comparing outdoor environment and sometimes you would be surprised because the big cities sometimes have a lower concentration of certain chemicals in the air than the rural areas. That is due to heating, in small villages most people burn fossil fuels, as well as all kinds of junk and waste. So during the winter the quality of the air in small villages can be much worse than in the big cities that rely more on central heating. As regards indoor environment, we did a study in Brno and the vicinity where we focussed on different kinds of buildings, because we suspected that the building materials would have a big impact on the quality of the environment and we found there was a huge difference in buildings built in the 1920s, 1950s and 1990s. It was a big study on family and apartment houses built in the last century, taking into account whether they had been reconstructed and remodelled later with new building materials and isolation materials and we could see pretty big differences. And we also noticed that indoor contamination is much more dependent on what kind of consumer products you bring into the house. So you were right that there is a difference between the people who have a lot of electronics, a lot of carpeting, a lot of new materials in the house and those who have an old-fashioned, very simple household.”
So the situation is getting worse rather than better?
Would you say that people are more conscious now of the danger of these toxins around us?
“Yes, definitely. People are more careful and there is a European policy that is trying to prevent industries from using chemicals that have an impact on our health or a toxic effect. But still the amount of chemicals that we use gets bigger and bigger. I think people are more aware of this, they are more interested in what is in their food, what is in their cosmetics, you can see a lot of bio-cosmetics on the market claiming to be free of phthalates and parabens …and I think it is important. And this awareness is also something we rely on. In our population studies we completely rely on people’s goodwill, on their willingness to come and collaborate with us, to provide us with samples, to fill the questionnaires. There are a lot of studies based on patients, clinical studies in the hospitals but then we are only studying people who are already sick and we can only guess why they got sick, why they developed that particular disease. But in order to identify what has the biggest impact we need to work with the healthy population –that is the only way how this research can be done.”