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Frog study highlights dangers of low-level pollutants

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A new policy briefing from the Institute for the Environment (IfE), at Brunel University, London, has highlighted the potential threat to frogs, toads and newts living in the UK's ponds and waterways from low-intensity chemical pollution that may contribute to outbreaks of disease.

Working in collaboration with the Zoological Society London and CHEM Trust, a science-based charity whose aim is to protect humans and wildlife from harmful chemicals, Professor Sue Jobling, Head of IfE, has been looking at the relationship between pond water quality, pond life disease outbreaks and possible immune suppressing chemicals.

Harmful chemicals like PCBs, DDT and atrazine, although now banned in the European Union, are still present in the environment in weak concentrations. Several studies now show that exposure to these pollutants and other chemicals still in daily use, may affect amphibian immune systems, making them too weak to resist exposure to infections.

Professor Jobling said, "In the past decade, we have seen significant declines in the populations of amphibians around the world. Research points to the combined effect of complex mixtures of chemical pollutants and disease as a possible cause of that decline.

"There is also concern that higher incidences of many diseases in humans, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, hypertension, diabetes and morbid obesity, are associated with exposure to common pollutants  through chronic, aberrant activation of an immune system 'master molecule', called NF-kB.  We urgently need appropriate testing strategies to identify immunotoxic chemicals, some of which could be found in ordinary household products."

Elizabeth Salter Green, Director of CHEM Trust said, "The EU needs to take a lead on both identifying and controlling our exposure to immunotoxic chemicals. The evidence is beginning to mount concerning exposure to consumer chemicals and impacts on the immune system. Strategies need to be put in place and implemented to address these shortfalls."