Skip main navigation

Interview with Dr. Joelle Ruegg from Uppsala University, Sweden

Interview from Dr. Joelle Ruegg from the University of Uppsala, Sweden, about endocrine disruption.
Dr. Ruegg thanks for accepting  this interview. Food Contact   Materials release chemicals at low doses.   Can you please tell us the latest in the research  on Endocrine Interference and human health ? New studies come out almost monthly, showing  potential effects of such chemicals on human   health. It’s difficult to keep track of them, even  for me. I can highly recommend a report that two   of my colleagues have prepared for the European  Parliament, published last year. It summarizes   the evidence of endocrine-interfering  effects that chemicals have on us.   You are now familiar with these  terms, having followed this course.   Some of these chemicals are found in Food  Contact Materials such as bisphenol A,   Phthalates and perfluorinated compounds.
In the  report the effects are classified as certain,   very likely, probable and suspected, based  on studies conducted in the last decades.   Very likely and probable effects of  chemicals in FCM on human health are, e.g.,   overweight, anxiety and lower IQ, and  effects on male sexual development.
Remaining on this subject… you have been part  of an EU project on Endocrine Disruption,   exposure and global health. Are there  ways to know THE REAL EXPOSURE of humans   to unhealthy chemicals ? Is there  investment in this research?
Correct, I am and have been part of large EU  projects on the effects of endocrine disruptors.   Admittedly, in these projects we focused on a  rather small number of chemicals compared to   what is out there. It is, as you say,  extremely difficult to assess real exposures,   we do not really have very good methods for this  and also too little information from the producers   to be able to detect all the chemicals.   There are large initiatives in Europe and  certainly also on national level to assess   real exposures but there could certainly be  invested more as this is such a complex issue. Look ! as a consumer I begin to worry.  Are the times and doses we are exposed   to REALLY meaningful ?
ARE MIXES MORE  IMPORTANT THAN SINGLE CHEMICALS ? Honestly,   with the doses that we are actually exposed to,  that are minimal, do we really need to worry ?
I understand that you are worried, Vicky! It is  not easy for a consumer to make your own opinion,   and I think the regulators and policy makers  should be responsible to protect you so that   you don’t have to worry. However, regulation  today is not considering the points you bring up.   It assumes that every chemical is released into  a chemical-free environment, i.e. it doesn’t take   mixture into account. It is also based on tests  that do not examine the most sensitive members of   the population, e.g. the developing child. In our  project and in many other studies, the conclusion   is that the risks of chemicals are underestimated  considering that we are exposed to mixes of   chemicals, and not single ones isolated.
Even in  these very small doses that we are exposed to. OK Dr.
RUEGG : some experimental data show  a potential hazard for human health, but we   in the Industry already try to reduce as much  as we can. My impression is that someone would   like to re-design the entire food chain, from  production to distribution, with a tremendous   impact on the industry .. and the alternatives  are not clear…. What is your opinion ?
We appreciate that you make an effort  to limit the use of harmful chemicals.   However, I don’t think you have the  right tools for this yet, as the methods   used for hazard assessment still  underestimate the effects on human health.   Yes, it will cost to replace with safer chemicals.  But do you know how much the health effects cost   the society? Colleagues of mine have estimated  that for Europe to be €163 billion per year,   which is 1.28% of EU Gross Domestic Product.  And that was a careful estimation! A lot of   money for the taxpayer, isn’t it? Preventing these  effects is often cheaper than trying to mend them. Researchers and academics like you, prof.  Ruegg, work and make careers on publications.   Right ?
The results are interesting….  but the message that arrives to consumers   and citizens are mixed and confusing. Like  with the CoronaVirus …going from “no clear   evidence” and “I don’t believe” to “we are  all contaminated” to “mankind will soon   extinguish”. Is there a communication problem  ? Is there lack or certainties ? Fake news ? I so much agree with you Mary, it’s a  communication problem. Especially you and me,   i.e. regulators and scientists, should learn  each other’s languages. Look ! a scientist   would never say something like “mankind  will soon be extinct”, this is media   language.
We are taught to be critical and  careful in interpreting our and others result,   that’s good scientific practice.  This is easily misunderstood as   “scientists disagreeing” but these are just normal  scientific discourses. I think it is important for   us to learn “different languages” for different  contexts (i.e. clear and simple when talking,   e.g. to you regulators) but also for you  to familiarize with scientific arguing.
Look, We Chemists and Biologists work hard to  produce data and results, but our work ends up   in nice scientific publications, and make little  or no impact in our daily life. Do you think we   need more CHEMICAL analyses, more BIO analyses  or more AWARENESS and ATTENTION from agencies ? I would say, both.
I think the mixture problem is  a good example: we have enough evidence showing   that we should do something about it. And because  we and others really tried to raise awareness,   countries like Sweden or the Netherlands,  and also the EU is looking at solutions   how to make chemical risk assessment  better, based on the existing knowledge.   However, the topic is very complex, so we need  more research to then implement more accurate   measures. I believe that we really need both,  action and awareness raising to implement current   knowledge and research to refine the knowledge,  and then again action to implement, etc.
Finally, is there a message you  want to leave to our students ?
Thanks, I will summarize what I  have said in my previous answers:  we are underestimating the risk of  chemicals, e.g. in food contact material,  
and thereby adventuring with human  (and wildlife) health, because:  • Currently, it is more or less  ignored that we are exposed to mixtures  • The current testing methods are not  much based on scientific knowledge  • Scientific knowledge is not  implemented quickly enough,   I think because there is little communication  between scientists and regulators/policy makers.

In this interview you will hear from a great expert on endocrine interference, chemical exposure and impact on our health: Dr. Joelle Ruegg from the University of Uppsala – Sweden. Her team has participated in important European networks to run innovative research on this subject. Her opinion and answers to the questions are highly competent and updated. Don’t miss this unique opportunity.

This article is from the free online

Consumer and Environmental Safety: Food Packaging and Kitchenware

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education