International award to environmental researcher

Environmental chemist and PhD-student Helena Nilsson at Örebro University, Sweden, has received the Otto Hutzinger Award for her presentation at an international environmental conference in Brussels. Her research shows for the first time that the human body can transform the chemical FTOH into the toxic fluoride pollutant PFOA.

"A closely related chemical of PFOA, namely PFOS, is already banned and now PFOA is also being phased out. But it is important to know that there are other sources that you also have to consider," says Helena Nilsson, who is a PhD-student at the School of Science and Technology at Örebro University.

She has followed professional ski waxers, who in their work are exposed to different fluorinated pollutants fluorides, in order to study how much of the chemicals are actually taken up by their bodies.

Great interest

"Normally we are exposed to very low levels of FTOH in the air and it is then difficult to prove a transformation into PFOA. But the air that the ski waxers breathe contains enormously high levels of the substance, and this has made it possible to identify the gradual breaking down of FTOH to PFOA."

Helena Nilsson presented her findings at the environmental symposium Dioxin 2011 in August and was one of two PhD-students who were awarded for their scientific contribution in the category “Toxicology, human exposure and risk assessment”.

"It is of course nice to be recognised for one’s work and it was great that so many showed such an interest in my research."

Text: Ingrid Lundegårdh
Translation: Charlotta Hambre-Knight
Photo: Takeshi Nakano