PRESS RELEASE FROM
THE SWEDISH ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
PERSISTENT ORGANIC POLLUTANTS
THE DANGER IS NOT OVER
August 12, 1998
Despite substantially reduced emissions of most well known persistent
organic pollutants, e.g. PCBs and dioxins, the danger is far from over.
The toxic substances are still present in the environment and in our
bodies. Moreover, a number of similar pollutants have recently been
discovered in the environment, according to the Swedish Environmental
The Agency is publishing the results of the latest Swedish research on
toxic pollutants in a new report, Monitor 16. The findings include animal
experiments which show that the brain in young specimens can be damaged
by even extremely small doses of environmental pollutants.
"There is every reason to continue keeping a vigilant eye on what these
chemicals are doing to the environment and to ourselves. We know, for
example, that they can disrupt hormonal systems and we suspect that they
can contribute to birth defects and health damage in infancy. Furthermore,
many factors are still unknown regarding the effects of organic pollutants.
The picture is much more complex than hitherto believed, and
new substances are being discovered all the time", says project leader
Niklas Johansson at the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.
Brominated flame retardants are one of the more controversial groups
of substances. The total use of these chemicals is still increasing.
They are used, for example, in electronic equipment.
"It is important that the problems of toxic organic pollutants are
prevented at source, i.e. making sure that substances with properties
which entail a risk are not produced in the first place. But we still need
to understand better how such substances affect the central nervous
system, hormonal systems, the immune system and tumour formation",
recommends the project group heading the research programme on persistent
organic pollutants and which has advised the production of the Monitor 16
Briefs from Monitor 16:
Reduced levels of toxic pollutants
For several years, levels of DDT, PCBs, dioxins and hexachlorobenzene
have fallen considerably in the Swedish natural environment. Levels of
brominated flame retardants were still increasing in the 1980's, but are
However, practically nothing is known about how the abundance
of most other persistent organic pollutants is changing in the environment
and in ourselves.
Not more toxic pollutants in the north
The general belief that toxic pollutants accumulate in northern regions
can be questioned. The theory is not supported by Swedish environmental
data. On the contrary, levels are considerably lower in the north of
Sweden than in southern regions. Furthermore, concentrations of for example
PCBs, DDT and dioxins appear to decrease at least as rapidly in northern
parts of the country as in the south.
Alarming brain damage in mice
Even very small doses of toxic pollutants can cause lifelong neurological
disturbances in laboratory animals. Ten day-old mice exposed to a few
micrograms of DDT will suffer permanent damage to the central
There are no external changes, but for the rest of their life they will
endure reduced learning capacity and hyperactive behaviour,
showing irreparable brain damage.
Other toxic pollutants, such as PCBs and brominated flame retardants,
can also cause similar effects even in small doses.
"Are human babies as sensitive as young mice? We do not know, but
we cannot ignore the risk", according to Per Eriksson, scientist at the
University of Uppsala. (His findings are also presented in the new
report Prenatal Developmental Neurotoxicity of PCBs, Report /
Swedish Environmental Protection Agency ; 4897).
Monitor 16, a broad-based popular account of ten years of Swedish
research in the field of persistent organic pollutants, has also been
published in English.
It is written by Claes Bernes at the Swedish Environmental Protection
Agency. The intention is to publish around ten additional reports in
English, which will summarise the experiences from various aspects
of this field of research.
Next week, 650 scientists from all around the world will meet in Stockholm
to discuss the latest scientific findings concerning persistent organic
pollutants, at the Dioxin'98 conference. The conference is organised by
the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the National Chemicals
Inspectorate, the Karolinska Institute and Stockholm University.
Sweden has long been in the forefront regarding research on toxic pollutants.
For example, it was the Swedish scientist Soeren Jensen who first identified
PCBs as a chemical hazard in all living things. Also, Christoffer Rappe
was one of the first to be able to analyse very low levels of dioxins.
"Monitor 16 Persistent Organic Pollutants, A Swedish perspective
on an international problem"
For further information:
Telephone: +46-8-698 1438,+46-8-728 75 43
Mobil: 010-667 93 02
Telephone: +46-8-698 1305
Swedish Museum of Natural History
Telephone: +46-8-666 411
University of Uppsala
Trlrpjone: +46-18-471 26 23
Swedish Environmental Protection Agency
SE-106 48 STOCKHOLM, Sweden
Tel: +46 8 6981273 Fax: +46 8 6981400