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The Health Ministry has launched its first-ever research project into the extent to which environmental toxins affect local residents.

As part of the project, samples will be taken from 250 people. The samples will be tested for a variety of chemicals, and the people will be polled to determine where they were exposed.

The study was unveiled Tuesday at a conference on the healthcare system's response to environmental problems.

Health Ministry toxicologist Tamar Berman said participants would fill out detailed questionnaires to determine whether they were exposed to things such as pesticides at home or polluted food.

Among other chemicals, researchers will be testing for Bisphenol A in participants' urine. This substance, believed to affect hormones, was recently banned in baby bottles and pacifiers. It is also suspected of increasing the risk of cancer, type-2 diabetes and Parkinson's disease.

Participants' samples also will be tested for aromatic hydrocarbons, which are emitted by vehicles and during electricity production. Some aromatic hydrocarbons are known carcinogens.

Also on the list is a chemical found in plastic called phthalate; organo-phosphates used in fertilizers that could damage the nervous system; and cotinine, which is found in tobacco.

Berman said most developed countries conduct long-term studies on how environmental toxins affect residents. In some countries, like France, such tests are mandated by law.

The initial testing phase will be one year.

The tests will show where Israel stands compared to other countries in terms of exposure to toxins, and whether exposure is increasing, Berman said.

However, the tests will not be able to measure each participant's personal risk, Berman said.

"We are obligated to tell participants what was found in their tests, but we will not be able to say how dangerous it is," she said.

Four years ago, Berman collected urine and blood samples from 20 pregnant woman at Hadassah University Hospital. The samples were tested for organo-phosphates, and the byproducts of one type of pesticide were found in 70 percent of the samples. This is higher than the rate in the United States, Berman said.

These kinds of tests have become a tool to raise awareness of environmental pollutants in recent years.

A few months ago, the United Nations held a conference in Stockholm, Sweden as part of the international treaty to reduce mercury pollution. During the conference, samples were taken from 45 delegates; all were found to contain mercury and one-third were found to have levels considered dangerous in the United States.

The conference organizers said the mercury came from fish. Mercury accumulates in their bodies, and is passed on to humans who eat them.