Bioaccumulative chemicals in our everyday products

Bioaccumulation in humans and animals occur when substances, such as chemicals or metals, are stored in the organism instead of being broken down and expelled from the body.

A bioaccumulative substance is stored in the body and more is added with every exposure. This means that the substance, in many cases, is never fully degraded or destroyed.

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).

Bioaccumulation category

“Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxic (PBT) chemicals are of particular concern not only because they are toxic but also because they remain in the environment for long periods of time, are not readily destroyed, and build up or accumulate in body tissue.” United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

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.

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