Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological, and photolytic processes. Because of their persistence, POPs bioaccumulate with potential adverse impacts on human health††††††††††††††††††† https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persistent_organic_pollutant
Evaluation of the effects of POPs on health is very challenging in the laboratory setting. For example, for organisms exposed to a mixture of POPs, the effects are assumed to be additive. Mixtures of POPs can in principle produce synergistic effects. With synergistic effects, the toxicity of each compound is enhanced (or depressed) by the presence of other compounds in the mixture. When put together, the effects can far exceed the approximated additive effects of the POP compound mixture.
POP exposure may cause developmental defects, chronic illnesses, and death. Some are carcinogens per IARC, possibly including breast cancer. Many POPs are capable of endocrine disruption within the reproductive system, the central nervous system, or the immune system. People and animals are exposed to POPs mostly through their diet, occupationally, or while growing in the womb. For humans not exposed to POPs through accidental or occupational means, over 90% of exposure comes from animal product foods due to bioaccumulation in fat tissues and bioaccumulate through the food chain. In general, POP serum levels increase with age and tend to be higher in females than males.
Studies have investigated the correlation between low level exposure of POPs and various diseases. In order to assess disease risk due to POPs in a particular location, government agencies may produce a human health risk assessmentwhich takes into account the pollutants' bioavailability and their dose-response relationships.
The majority of POPs are known to disrupt normal functioning of the endocrine system. Low level exposure to POPs during critical developmental periods of fetus, newborn and child can have a lasting effect throughout its lifespan. A 2002 study synthesizes data on endocrine disruption and health complications from exposure to POPs during critical developmental stages in an organismís lifespan. The study aimed to answer the question whether or not chronic, low level exposure to POPs can have a health impact on the endocrine system and development of organisms from different species. The study found that exposure of POPs during a critical developmental time frame can produce a permanent changes in the organisms path of development. Exposure of POPs during non-critical developmental time frames may not lead to detectable diseases and health complications later in their life. In wildlife, the critical development time frames are in utero, in ovo, and during reproductive periods. In humans, the critical development timeframe is during fetal development.
The same study in 2002 with evidence of a link from POPs to endocrine disruption also linked low dose exposure of POPs to reproductive health effects. The study stated that POP exposure can lead to negative health effects especially in the male reproductive system, such as decreased sperm quality and quantity, altered sex ratio and early puberty onset. For females exposed to POPs, altered reproductive tissues and pregnancy outcomes as well as endometriosis have been reported.
A Greek study from 2014 investigated the link between maternal weight gain during pregnancy, their PCB-exposure level and PCB level in their newborn infants, their birth weight, gestational age, and head circumference. The lower the birth weight and head circumference of the infants was, the higher POP levels during prenatal development had been, but only if mothers had either excessive or inadequate weight gain during pregnancy. No correlation between POP exposure and gestational age was found. A 2013 case-control study conducted 2009 in Indian mothers and their offspring showed prenatal exposure of two types of organochlorine pesticides (HCH, DDT and DDE) impaired the growth of the fetus, reduced the birth weight, length, head circumference and chest circumference.†††
Specific effects of POPs can include cancer, allergies and hypersensitivity, damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, reproductive disorders, and disruption of the immune system. Some POPs are also considered to be endocrine disrupters, which, by altering the hormonal system, can damage the reproductive and immune systems of exposed individuals as well as their offspring; they can also have developmental and carcinogenic effects.
Fruits and vegetables as well as the environment are also contaminated with polycycic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are toxic and estrogenic.
& U.S. ATSDR, Tox Profile, PAHs, https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp.asp?id=122&tid=25; & Environmental Working Group, https://www.ewg.org; ]