According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), household products, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and food all contain endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) which may be causing significant increases in diabetes, obesity, cancers and increasing infertility.

In recent decades, the incidence of many human diseases and disorders including diabetes, breast and prostate cancer, and male infertility has increased significantly and many scientists believe this is due to increasing levels of exposure to mixtures of some chemicals in widespread use.

The report also highlights that EDCs negatively effect early development of the brain, immune, reproduction and metabolic systems. These affects are often unnoticeable until several years or decades after exposure.

Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director explained:

"Scientific research gathered over the last few decades shows us that endocrine disruption is a real problem, with serious effects on wildlife, and possibly people. It would be prudent to take a precautionary approach to many of these chemicals until their effects are more fully understood."

Even though there is sufficient evidence of harm from EDCs in some wildlife species and in laboratory studies using rodent models for human health, it is difficult to demonstrate the effects of EDCs on humans due to the length, cost and methodological challenges with these types of studies.

Furthermore, it is difficult to assess the risk factors of EDCs as mixtures of similarly acting EDCs in combination may contribute to an overall effect, whilst each of these chemicals alone may not cause harm - thus making it difficult for researchers to detect what levels of exposure cause no effects.

Both humans and animals may be exposed to EDCs in the environment, or through water or via the food chain. According to the report there is strong evidence that exposure to EDCs causes thyroid, reproductive, neurological, and immune problems in animals. These disorders and diseases have also been seen increasing in human populations.

Possible effects of EDCs
  • Some studies have found an association between EDCs and thyroid disease. The incidence of thyroid cancer has increased by 155% in France and 5% in Switzerland, with young adults, women and children particularly at risk.
  • EDCs may influence early onset of puberty in girls and cause lower quality semen in males. EDCs is currently an accepted risk factor for breast cancer, endometriosis, fibroids and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in women.
  • In almost all developed countries, the incidence of breast cancer rates are increasing and this is primarily due to lifestyle and environmental exposures, rather than specific genetic factors.
  • Some EDCs have been linked with neurodevelopment disorders, such as attention deficit disorder, autism and diminished cognitive function in children.
  • The reproductive systems of polar bears, fish and other vertebrate species, as well as some invertebrate species, such as oysters are susceptible to EDCs.
Written By Grace Rattue