The United Nations has published a comprehensive and disturbing expert report suggesting that hundreds of hormone-disrupting toxins (known as “Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals” or EDCs) may be increasing the rate of sexual deformities, infertility, cancers, and other reproductive problems in people and wildlife around the world.
The State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals report was issued jointly last month by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
A well-functioning endocrine system regulates the release of certain hormones that are essential for functions such as metabolism, growth and development, sleep and mood. EDCs can change the functioning of this hormonal system, increasing the risk of adverse health effects. The associations between exposure to EDCs and health problems highlighted by the study include the potential for contributing to the development of non-descended testes in young males, breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men, developmental effects on the nervous system in children, ADHD, and thyroid cancer.
Some EDCs occur naturally, but as we have often reported in Natural Life Magazine, synthetic varieties can be found in pesticides, electronics, building materials, personal care and cleaning products, and cosmetics. They can also be found as additives or contaminants in food. They enter the environment mainly through industrial and urban discharges, agricultural run-off, and the burning and release of waste. Human exposure can occur via the ingestion of food, dust and water, inhalation of gases and particles in the air, and skin contact.
The report mentions building materials as a major source of EDCs, stating, “Over the past decade it has become clear that humans, in particular small children, are… exposed to EDCs via dust and particles in indoor environments like homes, schools, childcare centres, and offices…” A large number of chemicals – including phthalates and brominated fire retardants – are used as additives in indoor materials as well as other products found in the home, and these compounds can leak from materials into food or onto dust that is ingested primarily by toddlers and infants, who spend most of their time on the floor and are prone to putting hands and objects into their mouths. The report calls for the disclosure of chemicals in products, which is not something the chemical companies and product manufacturers are eager to do. In fact, they’re currently fighting and delaying a proposed LEED credit for proper chemical disclosure in building materials.
The report also raises concerns on the impact of EDCs on wildlife. In Alaska, for instance, exposure to such chemicals may contribute to reproductive defects, infertility, and antler malformation in some deer populations. Population declines in species of otters and sea lions may also be partially due to their exposure to diverse mixtures of PCBs, the insecticide DDT, other persistent organic pollutants, and metals such as mercury.
A number of recommendations are made in the report that would improve global knowledge of these chemicals and reduce the risk of disease. These include better testing, more research on their effects, better reporting on chemicals in products, and more collaboration among scientists and countries. Meanwhile, our articles and our book Natural Life Magazine’s Green and Healthy Homes can help you avoid many of these hormone-disrupting chemicals.