UN examines link between hormone-disrupting chemicals, health problems

Many chemicals found in household and industrial products that have not been adequately tested could have disrupting effects on the hormone system and lead to significant health issues, according to a United Nations report released today.

The report highlights some associations between exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and health problems such as breast cancer in women, prostate cancer, attention deficit and hyperactivity in children and thyroid cancer. “Chemical products are increasingly part of modern life and support many national economies, but the unsound management of chemicals challenges the achievement of key development goals, and sustainable development for all,” said the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner.

02-19-unep-edcsThe report, produced jointly by UNEP and the World Health Organization (WHO), calls for more research to fully understand the associations between EDCs and specific diseases and disorders.

“Investing in new testing methods and research can enhance understanding of the costs of exposure to EDCs, and assist in reducing risks, maximizing benefits and spotlighting more intelligent options and alternatives that reflect a transition to a green economy,” said Mr. Steiner.

The endocrine system regulates the release of certain hormones that are essential for functions such as metabolism, growth and development, sleep and mood. EDCs can alter these functions increasing the risk of adverse health effects.

EDCs can enter the environment through industrial and urban discharges, agricultural run-off and the burning and release of waste. Some EDCs occur naturally, while synthetic varieties can be found in pesticides, electronics, personal care products and cosmetics. They can also be found as additives or contaminants in food.

“We urgently need more research to obtain a fuller picture of the health and environment impacts of endocrine disruptors,” said the WHO Director for Public Health and Environment, Maria Neira. “The latest science shows that communities across the globe are being exposed to EDCs, and their associated risks. WHO will work with partners to establish research priorities to investigate links to EDCs and human health impacts in order to mitigate the risks. We all have a responsibility to protect future generations.”

The report, “State of the Science of Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals,” also raises similar concerns on the impact of EDCs on wildlife. In Alaska in the United States, exposure to such chemicals may contribute to reproductive defects, infertility and antler malformation in some deer populations. The otter and sea lion populations may also be at risk due to the chemical found in certain pesticides.

The report recommends further testing to identify EDCs and their routes of exposure to humans and wildlife. It also calls for wider collaboration among scientists so their shared data can fill in the current gaps in knowledge primarily in developing countries.

“Research has made great strides in the last ten years showing endocrine disruption to be far more extensive and complicated than realized a decade ago,” said the Chief Editor of the report, Åke Bergman, who is also a Professor at Stockholm University. “As science continues to advance, it is time for both management of endocrine disrupting chemicals and further research on exposure and effects of these chemicals in wildlife and humans.”

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