SOFT - TIAFT 1998 Poster Session 4 Friday October 9, 1998

Carole Dauberschmidt, Michel Yegles, Robert Wennig

Laboratoire National de Santé, Division Toxicologie, Centre Universitaire, L-1511 Luxembourg

The environment of the Aral Sea region has changed dramatically during the last 40 years. Shortsighted irrigation practices let the Aral Sea surface shrink to one half of the original surface, causing a 90 % decrement of air humidity and an increment of salty dust in the air by windblown sediments. Moreover, the remains of water reaching the Aral Sea were contaminated with fertilizers and pesticides used in the intensively cultivated fields. At the same time, the state of health of people living in the affected regions deteriorated considerably. Many children showed an impairment of respiratory, renal, digestive, and blood systems. At the National laboratory of health in Luxembourg, trace elements in hair specimens originating from the Aral Sea region of Kazakhstan (n = 6) were measured by X-ray fluorescence spectrometry.

Concentrations of the element Cl were up to 4 times higher compared to values found in European hair. Analyses of Kazakh drinking water samples (n = 12) revealed that concentrations of chloride and sodium, as well as the number of bacteria in specimens from the Aral sea region were far above maximal permitted levels in Europe. This indicated that surface water was highly contaminated with salt originating very likely from the former Aral Sea ground. The high sodium concentration and high number of bacteria in drinking water could be at least partly responsible for the impaired state of health of the local Kazakh population. In addition, chloride could theoretically be sequestered into hair, when consumed daily due to high concentrations in drinking water. These findings were supported by the fact that children living in Almaty, were asymtomatic. The former Kazakh Capital is situated more than 700 km east of Aral Sea region and is supplied with clean fresh water from the near-by mountain range.

Another hypothesis to explain the high levels of the element Cl in Kazakh hair samples could be the high organochlorine (PCBs, DDT, lindane) body burdens. A Swedish team had measured levels of organochlorines in blood of Kazakh children (n = 12) being 1 to 2 orders above Western Europe reference values. To check this hypothesis, a method for analyzing organochlorine compounds in hair had to be developed. Preliminary results indicate that there are no significant differences between organochlorine concentrations found in Kazakh (n = 2) and in European (n = 3) hair analyzed so far. Measured concentrations of lindane, DDT, PCB Nos. 138, 153, and 180 were between 0.5 to 5 pg/mg hair. Further studies are scheduled in order to elucidate if and to which extent relations between blood and hair organochlorine concentrations can be found.

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