Persistent bioaccumulative toxic (PBT) ingredients
Bioaccumulation in organisms refers to substances, such as toxins, that are building up in wildlife, domestic animals and humans – on the contrary to be broken down. The bioaccumulative substance is stored in the organism and more is added every time the organism is exposed to it. The substance is never fully destroyed or degraded.
Many of the bioaccumulative substances are also persistent, meaning that they are long-lived and resist degradation also in nature, which further increases exposure for animals (including humans).
Chemicals accumulating in organisms
There are multiple ingredients in beauty, personal care and household products that are bioaccumulative. Other common exposure sources are foods, the atmosphere (caused both by natural sources and human activity), and pesticides. Humans are repeatedly exposed to low doses of accumulative toxins and risk storing dangerous amounts of them in their bodies; and larger amounts of toxins usually mean greater risks.
The bioaccumulative substances are fat-soluble, meaning that they are stored in the body’s fat. It means that they can’t be secreted, transported out of the body, through urine.
Unfortunately though, toxins can be transferred from mother to child during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Avoiding bioaccumulative toxic substances is therefore especially important for pregnant women and for women who want kids in the future. Fetuses and small children are the most vulnerable to the harmful effects of chemicals.
In general, the adverse effects of bioaccumulative chemicals depend on which toxins, and which combination of toxins, that are stored. The effects are therefore unpredictable and are also easily overlooked as uptake can occur over a long period of time without effects showing.
High-standing animals in the food chain, such as predators, are more vulnerable to bioaccumulating toxins as they might consume high amounts of accumulating toxins through their prey. Bioaccumulative environmental pollutants have for example disturbed the Baltic seals reproductive cycle and almost caused the sea eagle to go instinct in Sweden.