Study: concentrations of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in blood of adult New Zealanders

Massey University’s Centre for Public Health Research (CPHR) has completed a 3-year study for the Ministry of Health, measuring the concentrations of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in blood from a cross-section of adult New Zealanders.

Serum samples were collected from 747 randomly selected participants across a range of age groups, ethnicity, gender, and geographic regions.

A copy of the report is available from the Centre for Public Health Research: Concentrations of Selected Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in the Serum of New Zealanders.

The results of the study showed serum concentrations for chlorinated POPs (dioxins and furans, PCBs and organochlorine pesticides such as DDT) have halved between 1997 and 2012.

In 2010, CPHR also analysed levels of brominated flame retardants in breast milk. The report found the levels to be moderate to low by international standards. In this latest study, serum samples were also analysed for brominated and fluorinated POPs. The concentrations of these chemicals were again found to be generally at the low end of the range of international values. These results will also be useful as a benchmark to see if concentrations increase or decrease in future decades.

Frequently asked questions

What studies have been carried out by the Government to protect human health and the environment from persistent organic pollutants?

The Ministry of Health and the Ministry for the Environment jointly lead a programme of monitoring of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in New Zealand. There has been one national study of POPs in human serum, completed in 2001 by the Ministry for the Environment, and three breast milk surveys of POPs carried out in 1988, 1998, and 2008 by the Ministry of Health.

Why the Ministry commissioned the serum POPs study?

The Ministry commissioned Massey University’s Centre for Public Health Research to assess the level of POPS in human serum. This study is aimed to quantify the concentrations of POPs in the serum of adult New Zealanders and compare these levels to other countries where POPs studies have been carried out; to study the determinants of elevated levels of POPs in serum; and to provide recommendations for prioritising POPs for remedial action in New Zealand.

What are the main findings of the study?

The study reported that New Zealander’s levels were generally comparable or lower to similar overseas countries, and the levels are lower than in previous surveys – our surveys of dioxins have shown the levels of dioxins in people have been decreasing for at least the past 15 years. The study also looked at brominated and fluorinated POPs for the first time and found these to be comparable to, or less than the concentrations reported for other developed countries.

Will you do any follow-up testing?

The Ministry of Health is intending to do a follow-up testing, but because POPs breakdown slowly in the body, this will not be for several years.

For more information

If you need further information about Persistent Organic Pollutants, including what they are and where they are found, please refer to the Ministry for the Environment's website.

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