The Museo de las Ciencias hosts the International Conference on Food Contaminants and Neurodevelopmental Disorders
Dec 2, 2006
The official opening of the conference will take place tomorrow, Sunday 3rd December at 9 a.m. in the presence of the Acting Director” of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Herman Koeter, who will present the work and role that this European body plays in this field.
On Tuesday 5th December, Valerie Rolland, manager of Research Programmes on this issue in the EU will officially close this international meeting that will, over three days, bring together coordinators and outstanding researchers from the main projects financed by the European Commission on Food Contaminants and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, as well as the most distinguished European and American researchers in this field.
The speakers participating in this conference use a wide variety of multidisciplinary techniques in order to get a wider and more detailed vision of the mechanisms through which food contaminants alter cerebral function and development so as to design procedures and identify biochemical markers that can analyse and predict these harmful effects.
The conference will also discuss procedures for risk assessment, the different exposure paths, the analysis of prolonged exposure effects to low dosage of contaminants, as well as that of combined exposure to different contaminants, long-term effects, the neurotoxicity of the contaminants that act as endocrinal disrupters and related issues.
Toxic metals, PCBs and dioxins
Food contamination due to chemical substances can occur as a result of environmental pollution that gets into the food chain through the air, water and soil, as happens with toxic metals, PCBs (polychlorated biphenyls) and dioxins. Also contributing to the food chain contamination are various chemical products, such as pesticides, drugs and substances administered to animals and other agrochemical products such as fertilisers. Some additives used in food as well as their processing can also contribute contaminants.
These contaminants can have harmful effects on human health and, in particular, on the cerebral development of children exposed to those contaminants during pregnancy, breast-feeding and early age when the most important stage of cerebral development is taking place.
Particularly worrying are the so-called persistent organic pollutants, or POPs. These include, among others, PCBs, dioxins and methylmercury. These persistent organic pollutants are highly resistant to degradation and degrade very slowly, so they accumulate in the environment and enter the food chain.
They are present, for example, in the sea, where they are swallowed by fish that can accumulate various POPs (methylmercury, PCBs), which are later consumed by animals that feed off fish and also by human beings. The concentration of POPs is quite high, for example, in the fat of polar bears. Human mothers’ milk contains significant amounts of several persistent organic pollutants, especially in northern areas (such as the Scandinavian peninsula) where POPs accumulate, carried by the wind and sea currents.
Use of some of these POPs has been banned. However, they are still present in large amounts in the environment. Moreover, the possible toxic effects of their substitutes (for example the PBDEs, polybromurate diphenyls, that are replacing PCBs) have still not been sufficiently researched.
Although these pollutants are present in the environment simultaneously, most of the research undertaken so far has analysed the neurotoxic effects of each individual agent on cerebral development. They may act synergetically, increasing the harmful effects on brain function and cerebral development or it could be that some substances prevent the effects of others.