Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Are chemicals killing us?

Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals entering the environment. Photo: UNEP

Hormone disrupting chemicals used by humans in every-day life are becoming a “global threat” according to a major United Nations report published this week. 

It’s been found that the chemicals, used in pesticides, flame retardants, plastics, cosmetics and canned foods, “mess” with the hormones of both people and wild life. Exposure can lead to non-descended testes in young males, breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men, developmental effects on the nervous system in children, attention deficit /hyperactivity in children and thyroid cancer.

“Over the past decade, we know much better that chronic diseases, ones related to the endocrine system, are increasing globally,” said Thomas Zoeller, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a co-author of the report.

“We seem to be accepting as a society that it’s acceptable to load up our next generation with chemicals in an unregulated manner and hope they’re not bad,” Professor Zoeller said. “We need to change that entire culture.”

There are almost 1,000 household and industrial chemicals known to disrupt the endocrine system but little is known how they interact with each other.  “The vast majority of chemicals in current commercial use have not been tested at all,” the authors wrote in the summary.  

Wildlife harmed by hormone disrupting chemicals distributed by man
Exposure to the hormone-harming chemicals, known as 'endocrine disruptors' can occur in a number of ways.  They enter the environment 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.

To protect humans and wildlife, the United Nations report proposes a precautionary approach, suggesting that certain chemicals should be banned or restricted “in order to reduce exposure early, even when there are significant but incomplete data.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, chemical companies have challenged the validity of the findings.  

“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. 

More reading: Effects of human exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals examined in landmark UN report

The full United Nations report in PDF format: Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals – 2012

See also:

1 comment:

  1. This is important stuff! I often refer to the Environmental Working Group consumer guides ( to know what chemicals are in the products that I use and consume, and how they affect my health.


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