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Monday, 20 February 2017
Health costs of hormone disrupting chemicals over €150bn a year in Europe, says study
Lower IQ, adult obesity and 5% of autism cases are all linked to
exposure to endocrine disruptors found in food containers, plastics,
furniture, toys, carpeting and cosmetics, says new expert study
is experiencing an explosion in health costs caused by
endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that is comparable to the cost of
lead and mercury poisoning, according to the most comprehensive study of
the subject yet published.
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the human
hormone system, and can be found in food containers, plastics,
furniture, toys, carpeting and cosmetics.
The new series of reports by 18 of the world’s foremost experts on
endocrine science pegs the health costs of exposure to them at between
€157bn-€270bn (£113bn-£195bn), or at least 1.23% of the continent’s GDP.
“The shocking thing is that the major component of that cost is
related to the loss of brain function in the next generation,” one of
the report’s authors, Professor Philippe Grandjean of Harvard
University, told the Guardian.
“Our brains need particular hormones to develop normally – the
thyroid hormone and sex hormones like testosterone and oestrogen.
They’re very important in pregnancy and a child can very well be
mentally retarded because of a lack of iodine and the thyroid hormone
caused by chemical exposure.”
The study attributes at least 5% of European autism cases to EDC
exposure, but Grandjean said the figure likely under-estimated the
linkage, because of difficulties in measuring foetal exposure to
chemicals after a child had been born.
“I would recommend that pregnant women and children eat organic
fruits and vegetables and avoid using plastic containers and canned
food, especially in the microwave, because containers are usually
treated on the inside with substances and compounds that can leak into
the tomato soup and may act as endocrine disruptors,” he said.
Endocrine disruptors have long been thought damaging to male reproductive health.
The new study establishes “probable causation” between endocrine
exposure and a range of illnesses including autism, infertility,
obesity, diabetes, and cryptorchidism.
To gauge the probability that specific illnesses had been caused by
industrial chemicals, the authors adapted the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change’s ‘weight of evidence’ model, and an epidemiology model
used by the World Health Organisation, for the paper.
It found a 70%-100% likelihood that IQ loss and intellectual
disability were caused by exposure to organophosphates used in
herbicides and insecticides, and to Polybrominated diphenyl ethers
(PBDEs) found in flame retardants. The odds of attention deficit
disorder being caused by exposure to multiple EDCs was put lower, at
For costing the results of such conditions, the research team
factored in hospital stays, physician services, nursing home care and
other medical fees, as well as indirect costs such as lost worker
productivity, early death and disability.
Past research has estimated the European health costs of intellectual
disability caused by lead and mercury poisoning at €69bn. “Our
calculated costs associated with several industrial chemicals are of the
same order of magnitude,” the study said.
“These studies tell a frightening and expensive story equivalent to a
€7,500 cost for every man, woman and child in the EU every year,” said
Genon Jensen, the director of the Health and Environment Alliance. “Some
of these chemicals are no longer allowed on the market but others are
still widely used. The European commission should act now in a robust
and systematic manner to reduce people’s exposure.”
The European commission has faced criticism from environmentalists
for delaying its planned strategies to identify and address the health
effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals, amid lobbying from the
pesticides and chemical industries.
“We are also negatively impacted by the delay,” Jean-Charles Bocquet,
the director of the European Crop Protection Agency said then. “But at
the same time we understand that if we want to have a science-based
approach, sometimes we have to delay.”
Grandjean called for the commission to publish its criteria for
identifying EDCs so that testing for their safety and control could
begin. “We have a serious need for prevention here and the commission
has the power to get this started,” he said. We need to do it very, very