Untested synthetic chemicals found in many household and industrial products could be associated with adverse health outcomes, including
low fertility, says a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and
the World Health Organisation.
The report looked at the effect of endocrine disrupting
chemicals (EDCs) on human health and wildlife. It found evidence suggesting an association between certain chemicals and adverse effects on the
endocrine system - a network of glands that release hormones - that could lead to health problems. The report concludes that further research is needed to investigate
the connection between EDCs and certain diseases, and called for
more widespread testing methods.
EDCs are chemicals that can disrupt the action of hormones in the body,
altering the function of the endocrine system. This may increase the risk of
adverse health effects and can lead to reduced fertility and infertility, among
EDCs can occur naturally or can be produced synthetically and are used
in the production of cosmetics, textiles plastics and pesticides. Once released into the environment, some chemicals can
travel to remote regions and can also affect food products. Exposure to humans may
occur by the ingestion of food, dust or water or through the air. The
report also says children have a higher exposure to EDCs because of their hand to
'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 UN Under Secretary-General and UNEP Executive
Director Achim Steiner.
EDCs include persistent organic pollutants, such as PCBs and
DDT banned in many countries over 20 years ago. PCBs have been linked to IVF failure, reported in BioNews 598. The report says new
sources of human exposure to EDCs have now been identified making them a continued cause for concern.
The authors of the report make it clear that studies have not demonstrated
a causal link between exposure to EDCs and potential health problems in humans
but that over the past ten years animal and human studies have produced greater
evidence of such an association. Infertility was seen to have been induced by exposure
to EDCs in animal and human models but further research is needed to investigate this potential link.
'Research has made great strides in the last ten years
showing endocrine disruption to be far more extensive and complicated than
realised a decade ago', said Professor Ã…ke Bergman of Stockholm University and chief editor of the report. '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'.
The report acknowledges that due to the complexity of
exposure to EDCs and disease etiology 'it may never be possible to be
absolutely certain that a specific exposure causes a specific disease or
dysfunction'. It emphasises that we do not, however, know enough about EDCs. Known EDCs are only the 'tip of the iceberg', it says.
report recommends greater testing of unknown EDCs and research into the effects
of mixtures of EDCs on humans and wildlife. It also says many sources of EDCs
are not brought to the attention of researchers because of insufficient reporting.