Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: What Are They, and Why Do They Matter?

by Rachel Connolly

You may have heard the term “endocrine-disrupting chemicals” before, either on the Chemical Entanglements section of CSW’s website, or in the newspaper, or perhaps in a scientific study. This term is increasingly well-known, especially as the chemical industry continues to manufacture potentially dangerous substances at a rate that our regulatory agencies are struggling to keep up with. But what are endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), and what do they mean for your own health?

EDCs are known to disrupt your normal hormonal functions. Exposure to these chemicals can cause birth defects, cancer development, and learning disabilities, among other concerns. These chemicals are primarily man-made and found in substances such as pesticides, food additives, toys, and even personal care products.[1] Yes, your cosmetics, detergents, and even the toys that children play with often contain these substances.

Bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA, is a well-known example of an endocrine-disrupting chemical. BPA is used to make plastics for water bottles and other products, and epoxy resins that line cans for food. While many companies have elected to remove BPA from their products, largely in response to consumer pressure, the only ban in place in the United States is a federal ban on BPA in infant bottles and formula, imposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2012 (bottles) and 2013 (formula). California has BPA on its Proposition 65 list, indicating that it is known to cause reproductive toxicity. [2] Proposition 65 requires businesses selling products with reproductive toxins like BPA to notify customers when such chemicals are present, but this requirement is satisfied by a simple sign at the checkout counter. There are no warnings required on the product labels themselves. [3]

BPA is one relatively familiar example of an EDC, but we are exposed to numerous other endocrine-disrupting chemicals (and other types of harmful chemicals) in our daily lives, the potential effects of which are not as publicized as BPA. While preventative policy regulation is vital, adaptive precautionary consumerism (choosing products that contain less harmful ingredients) is a necessary alternative for individuals to use when purchasing products.

Regulatory agencies, scientists, and advocates are working to increase public knowledge on the topic of EDCs, and to enact stricter regulations for the production and use of these chemicals. The EPA maintains the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, as well as a dashboard, which helps “the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program evaluate chemicals for endocrine-related activity.”[4] Scientists are conducting research to reduce uncertainties regarding the health impacts of these chemicals.

Additionally, advocacy groups in both the United States and other regions are fighting for more tightly regulated chemical review processes and use of the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle holds that products that have not been proven to be safe should not be allowed to enter the market. Moreover, even when a particular dangerous chemical is banned, its replacement is often equally dangerous—as is the case with Bisphenol S, often used as a replacement to BPA. This is why implementation of the precautionary principle in policymaking processes is so crucial.

To learn more about endocrine-disrupting chemicals and other salient topics regarding gender and chemical exposures, please join us at the Center for the Study of Women’s Chemical Entanglements Symposium on May 4 and 5, 2017!

Further Resources

As mentioned previously, we highly recommend that you engage in precautionary consumerism, and check ingredient labels before purchasing products! Here are several resources that can help you make healthy choices when you are shopping for personal care and household products:

  1. Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, Food Scores, and Skin Deep: Cosmetics Database
  2. Think Dirty App
  3. Campaign for Safe Cosmetics & list of Safe Cosmetics Companies

For more about Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals, visit:

  1. The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
  2. Endocrine Disruptors Action Group
  3. Environmental Protection Agency: Endocrine Disruption

Citations

Associated Press. “California Delays BPA Warning Rules, Fearing They Could Scare Away Shoppers.” Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2016. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-california-bpa-warning-rules-20160324-story.html.

“Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs).” World Health Organization. Accessed February 11, 2017. http://www.who.int/ceh/risks/cehemerging2/en/.

“Endocrine Disruption Screening Program for the 21st Century (EDSP21).” United States Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed February 11, 2017. https://www.epa.gov/chemical-research/endocrine-disruption-screening-program-21st-century-edsp21.

“The Proposition 65 List.” Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, n.d. http://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65/proposition-65-list.

Footnotes

[1] “Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs).”

[2] “The Proposition 65 List.”

[3] Associated Press, “California Delays BPA Warning Rules, Fearing They Could Scare Away Shoppers.”

[4] “Endocrine Disruption Screening Program for the 21st Century (EDSP21).”

 

Rachel Connolly is a Graduate Student Researcher at the Center for the Study of Women. She is pursuing her MS in UCLA’s Environmental Health Science program.

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