A study has found that nearly all French people are contaminated with heavy metals such as arsenic and mercury – and that exposure levels are higher than in other European countries.
National health agency Santé Publique France said smoking and the consumption of fish and seafood products had contributed to the findings, published early this month.
The presence of 27 potentially harmful metals were measured in the bodies of children and adults, and cross-checked with data from a decade go, as part of a so-called Esteban health study that took into account environmental and nutritional factors.
Blood, urine and hair samples were taken from a representative sample of 3,600 people aged between 6 and 74 years, while information was gathered on their lifestyle and food consumption habits.
Between 97 and 100 percent of participants were found to be exposed to heavy metals, depending on the substance. Santé Publique France said the findings indicated that the entire French population was affected.
"The levels measured were higher than those found in most foreign countries (Europe and North America) except for nickel and copper," the agency added.
As well as an increase in arsenic and mercury, the results showed a worrying increase in cadmium levels – a metal that has been recognised as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Cadmium is a cumulative toxicant, which means the risk of adverse effects is linked to the dose that accumulates in the body over time. It is harmful to the kidneys, bones and respiratory system, and is suspected of being an endocrine disruptor.
The study found that nearly half of the French population had a cadmium concentration level higher than that recommended by the French National Health Security Agency.
While cadmium is naturally present in soil, air and water, it can also be found in certain industrial and agricultural processes, such as phosphate fertilisers.
"This is particularly true of fertilisers from Morocco, which are rich in cadmium … and which are particularly used in France," said Pierre Souvet, president of the French Environmental Health Association.
Santé Publique France urged people to diversify their food sources, particularly for fish, to avoid excessive exposure to heavy metals.