two babies and an adult playing
Children and adults are at risk of health effects by mixtures of chemicals.
Foto: Marisa Howenstine, Unsplash

Chemical cocktails cause health risks for children and adults

A new research study shows that mixtures of chemicals pose health risks to children as well as adults. The concentrations of chemicals found in the European population of adults and children exceeds the safe level by a factor of between 3 and 9. Six chemicals contributed to about 95% of the total risk. These results call for improved risk management measures for the chemical mixtures that humans are frequently exposed to.

The study is based on exposure data generated by the HBM4EU project, providing information about hazardous chemicals found in the bodies of European adults and children. 136 chemicals were identified in adults and 84 were found in children. The risks of these exposures were estimated using European health-based guideline values. Because guideline values are missing for several chemicals, the mixture risk for adults was assessed for only 20 chemicals. For children 17 chemicals could be included in the risk assessment.

The results of the risk assessment show that the acceptable exposure to these chemicals is exceeded by a factor of between 3 and 9. Six chemicals contributed roughly 95% of the total risk, phthalates, flame retardants, pesticides, PFAS, cadmium, and UV filters (chemicals used in sunscreen lotions).

Thomas Backhaus, one of the study´s co-authors, emphasizes that

"These results confirm, once again, that chemical mixtures might jeopardize human health, and that we need to improve the risk management of typical complex exposure scenarios.”

The European Commission will introduce a "Mixture Assessment Factor" (MAF) to enable the consideration of mixture risks already during the registration or authorization of individual chemicals. The study indicates that a MAF of at least 10 is needed for adequately protecting human health.



The study team includes researchers from Italy, Belgium, Germany, and Sweden, with Sebastian Socianu from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre as the lead author. The results of the study were published on 18 May 2022 with the title Chemical Mixtures in the EU Population: Composition and Potential Risks in the journal 'International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health'.

The  HBM4EU consortium brings together leading European expertise on human biomonitoring from 24 European Union Member States, as well as Norway, Iceland, Israel and Switzerland. Read more here HBM4EU – science and policy for a healthy future

Mixture Assessment Factor" (MAF) - Read more and listen to a seminar here Could implementing a mixture assessment factor improve the regulatory assessment of combination effects of chemicals? | University of Gothenburg