Poisoned by every day life
The WHO stops short of saying the chemicals actually caused the illnesses but did say that in some cases, the evidence was very strong. The report – State of the Science of Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals – is the most comprehensive of its kind because rather than focusing on one chemical or one illness, it evaluates all the evidence. It says: ‘The diverse systems affected by endocrine-disrupting chemicals likely include all hormonal systems and range from those controlling development and function of reproductive organs to the tissues and organs regulating metabolism and satiety.
‘Effects on these systems can lead to obesity, infertility or reduced fertility, learning and memory difficulties, adult-onset diabetes or cardiovascular disease, as well as a variety of other diseases.’ Worryingly, it warns the chemicals assessed so far by scientists may only be the ‘tip of the iceberg’ – and there could be many other potentially harmful compounds out there. It cautions that the key role of hormones in the development of tissues and organs means that unborn babies and young children may be particularly vulnerable.
The report – written over two years by international experts who collated and weighted scientific studies on the topic – also states the rise in some conditions is too rapid to be blamed on genes alone. ‘The prevalence of paediatric asthma has more than doubled over the past 20 years and is now the leading cause of child hospitalisations and school absenteeism,’ it said. ‘Certain birth defects, such as those of the male reproductive organs are on the rise. The incidence of paediatric leukaemia and brain cancer have risen, as has the incidence of testicular cancer. These are stark health statistics.’
The WHO says wildlife is also at risk and calls for much more research into the chemicals and their effects – and says that there may be a case for banning or restricting them.
Dr Maria Neira, the WHO’s director for public health and environment, said: ‘The latest science shows that communities around the globe are being exposed to endocrine-disrupting chemicals and their associated risks. We all have a responsibility to protect future generations.’ Elizabeth Salter Green, of the campaign group CHEM Trust, said the EU was trying to tighten up the regulation of gender-bending chemicals but the UK was in favour of the least stringent measures.
She added: ‘This report bears testimony to the on-going failure of regulatory agencies to reduce exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals, which are implicated in the increased rates of hormone-related cancers and other diseases. ‘Thankfully, the EU is now trying to come to agreement on how to identify such hormone disrupting chemicals, so that they can be effectively regulated, but unfortunately the UK is trying to thwart this process in a bid to limit the number of chemicals that will fall under the regulatory axe.’
The Chemical Industries Association said it was important to note that naturally-occurring substances in beer, chocolate and coffee can have more powerful effects on the body’s hormones than man-made chemicals.
By Fiona Macrae