Woman eating salad meal

The food and drinking water that people consume include chemicals that have effects on health. Among them are substances, such as lead, which are known to have a negative effect on intelligence or development of the brain. At the request of the European Commission, RIVM and other parties have conducted an exploratory study into the total intake of four substance groups, such as heavy metals and flame retardants. The results show that exposure to these chemicals is likely to be high. However, it is still unclear how great the risk to health is. More research is needed.

RIVM calculated the intake via food and drinking water for four different groups: toddlers, children, young adults and women aged 18 to 45 in nine European countries. The calculations, which were carried out according to the guidelines of the European Food Safety Authority EFSA, showed that the intake was higher than the acceptable amounts for all groups in all countries. However, the researchers still encountered many uncertainties in the summation of the substances. As a result, it is currently not possible to say exactly how high the summed intake of the chemicals is and therefore how great the risk actually is.

Chemical mixtures

The European Commission is concerned about the possible risks of ingesting mixtures of chemicals and wants these to be clarified quickly. RIVM shares this concern and is therefore taking part in national and European projects on this subject. As part of the European ATHLETE project, RIVM has conducted an exploratory study into the risks of ingesting mixtures of chemicals. RIVM will share the results and uncertainties with EFSA and the European Commission and also discuss follow-up research with these organisations.

Follow-up research

RIVM aims to conduct follow-up research together with international institutes. They will take a closer look at what people actually ingested by examining blood and urine levels of the chemicals. The researchers will also look at how the levels in blood and urine can best be added up. This will provide a more complete picture of the exposure to chemical mixtures and the risk of negative effects on intelligence and brain development.

Nutritional guidelines

Even if people ingest too much of certain harmful substances, this does not mean that it is better to avoid some foods. These products also contain many substances that are actually healthy, such as healthy fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. Pregnant women and children are advised to follow the national guidelines for healthy eating and drinking.

The researchers have published a scientific article in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. RIVM worked together with researchers from Brunel University in the UK and scientists from various European sister organisations.