Every day chemicals linked to common diseases

We live in a world in which man-made chemicals have become a part of everyday life. Some of these chemical pollutants can affect the endocrine (hormonal) system and interfere with important developmental processes in humans and wildlife, warns the report State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals 2012 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Common chemicals found in every home may be causing cancer, asthma, birth defects and reduced fertility, the World Health Organisation has informed.

In the report, the researchers show that there are several disorders which are increasing and can be linked to endocrine disrupting substances:

(1) Cancer – breast cancer, endometriosis, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and thyroid cancer increase.
(2) Obesity and diabetes - these have increased over the past 40 years, especially type 2 diabetes, which has more than doubled since 1980.
(3) Decreasing male sperm counts and genital malformations, which are increasing among young boys.
(4) Birth defects – such as low birth weight and abrupt pregnancies - which have increased in many countries.
(5) Premature breast development among young girls, a phenomenon that can lead to breast cancer.
(6) Thyroid problems, which are also increasing among children in some countries and can lead to behavioural disorders.

Endocrine disrupting chemicals mainly 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 with plastics and rubbers.

Known examples of endocrine disrupting chemicals include phthalates (a plastic-softener), brominated flame retardants (often used in household textile or furniture) and metals like lead and mercury.

Some endocrine-disrupting chemicals 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.

Of greatest significance is that we now know that there are particularly vulnerable periods during fetal and postnatal life when endocrine-disrupting chemicals alone, or in mixtures, have strong and often irreversible effects on developing organs, whereas exposure of adults causes lesser or no effects, the authors write....