AGES has made a new assessment of the risk presented to the population of the Görtschitz Tal by HCB-contaminated foodstuffs. The first assessment was carried out in December 2014. The result of the initial evaluation was confirmed: there is no health risk to people who have eaten HCB-contaminated products for up to 14 days. For people who have eaten HCB-contaminated foodstuffs for a longer period, a risk is not to be expected, but cannot be ruled out. The Austrian Federal State of Carinthia has therefore commissioned experts in environmental medicine from the Medical University of Vienna to investigate the actual HCB contamination and possible health effects for the inhabitants of Görtschitz Tal.
The current AGES risk assessment
For the current assessment the results were used from residue testing on 824 foodstuffs from the period 27 March 2014 to 20 March 2015. These primarily involved milk and milk products, meat and meat products, but also fruit, fruit juices, honey, vegetables and cereal produced in the Görtschitz Tal. Compared to the risk assessment of December 2014, there were twice as many test results available. It was therefore possible to make more precise calculations as to the quantities of HCB consumed by children, women and men in the Görtschitz Tal.
A worst case scenario was assumed: these calculations assume that people have had a diet consisting of products originating solely from the Görtschitz Valley region. Contaminated products have not been for sale since December 2014. Thus the calculated consumed quantities are higher than those that people in the Görtschitz Valley were actually exposed to.
The risk was calculated for persons who eat contaminated foodstuffs in average quantities (average consumers) as well as for persons who eat especially large quantities of food that due to their high fat content are most contaminated with HCB, such as milk, milk products and meat (high consumers).
The average intake levels of HCB for children, women and men were compared to the currently most up-to-date health-related reference levels from 2013 (US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, ATSDR). These tolerable or acceptable intake levels refer to the quantity of a substance that a person can consume every day with no expected adverse health effects.
For people who have eaten contaminated foodstuffs for up to 14 days there is no risk. The tolerable or acceptable intake level of 8 µg/kg body weight per day will not be exceeded either for high or for average consumption levels.
If contaminated foodstuffs are consumed for between 15 and 365 days, the tolerable intake level of 0.1 µg/kg body weight per day will be exceeded in children, women and men. These excessive levels equate to three times the tolerable daily intake in the case of average consumption levels and six times as much in the case of high consumption levels of milk and meat. Adverse health effects are not to be expected, but cannot be entirely ruled out.
If contaminated foodstuffs are consumed for longer than a year, the average intake of HCB is four times the tolerable intake of 0.07 µg/kg body weight per day and in the case of high consumption levels of milk and meat products eight times that amount. Adverse health effects are not to be expected, but cannot be entirely ruled out.