Up to 88 pollutants in children’s hair

According to the LIH study, the results showed that each child had an average of 61 pollutants in their hair, which is significantly higher than the average adult from last year.

Pioneering study in Luxembourg

Simon Martin

According to the LIH study, the results showed that each child had an average of 61 pollutants in their hair, which is significantly higher than the average adult from last year.

If there is one part of the body that says a lot about a person, it is the hair! The cleanliness of life and food, but also and above all pollution. In October 2020, the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH) launched a broad appeal to the population as part of an innovative study, to say the least. The Institut du Luxembourg wanted to have 200 strands of hair to analyze the degree of pollution in them and get a more global idea of ​​the phenomenon on the scale of the Grand Duchy. But beware, it wasn’t just a fuse, the LIH wanted to collect samples from only the young population between the ages of one and twelve years.


Photo: Laurent Bloom

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It must be said that the experiment has already been tried on adult locks a few years ago. The results of the study were astonishing: on a representative sample of 497 people, the analyzes carried out made it possible to detect an average of 19 pollutants per head. Some were also present in all individuals.

This is how the results of analyzes targeting the hair of young children were revealed this Tuesday. Hard work but very useful, explained Professor Brice Appenzler, Group Head of the Human Biomonitoring Research Unit at LIH. The effects of exposure to chemicals in children can differ markedly from those in adults due to behavioral and physiological differences. Although children are smaller, with a surface area to volume ratio three times greater than that of adults, they have periods of rapid growth and tend to consume more food per unit weight than adults.”

Global sample of 256 hairs

Professor Appenzler’s team sought to better understand the chemical pollutants children are exposed to. Thus, the entire Luxembourg Study was able to collect hair samples from 256 resident children under 13 years of age. The samples were tested for 153 compounds, including pesticides and other chemicals found in manufacturing such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), decabromodiphenyl ether (DeBDE) and bisphenol A, all of the contaminants.



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A questionnaire was also used to collect information about the children’s lifestyle, including whether they have pets at home, where they live and what they eat. “The current study shows that children are simultaneously exposed to multiple pollutants belonging to different chemical classes,” said Alba Iglesias Gonzalez, the study’s first author.

Concretely, the results showed that each child had an average of 61 pollutants in their hair, ranging from 29 to 88 per sample, which is significantly more than adults. The highest concentration was bisphenol A (BPA), which is commonly used in the plastics industry. Although POPs have been banned in Europe for more than 20 years, they have been found in more than half of the samples, suggesting that Luxembourg’s strong industrial past, combined with the long decomposition time of these chemicals, could be a reason for persistent organic pollutants to persist. exposure in children.

Boys are more susceptible than girls

Pesticides were also frequently detected in all samples. Interestingly, exposure to pollutants is higher among young adults, and boys are more exposed to non-persistent pesticides than girls. “It is suspected that this is due to a physiological and behavioral dimorphism between the sexes,” the study says.


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Additionally, kids who mostly followed an organic diet had significantly lower levels of 17 types of pollutants in their hair. Whether children live in urban or rural areas affects the type of pollutant they are exposed to, not the amount. At the same time, it has been found that having pets in the home exposes children to chemicals found in pest control products applied to animals, the latter of which poses risks such as eye, skin and respiratory reactions, even in brief cases. – exposure on the run.

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Of the 153 compounds tested, only 17 contaminants were detected in any sample. Professor Appenzler concludes, “The large number of pollutants detected demonstrates that children, like adults, are simultaneously exposed to multiple pollutants from different chemical families.” “The results obtained here lay the foundation for further investigations aimed at better understanding the contribution of different sources of exposure to pollutants in children. In addition, the current work provides guidance on identifying exposure factors and suggests options for interventions aimed at reducing them.”

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