Endocrine Disruptors: The Wolf in Microwavable Plastic Clothing - Danger Week
ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS BTR Editorial

By Matthew DeMello and Dane Feldman

Looking at the current news cycle, the world may just have enough problems to deal with these days. Really, if you want a reason to scare yourself stupid about the present state of affairs, just take your pick of these pressing issues. Yet for a theme like “Danger Week” on BTR and media sensationalism being what it is, it is important not to get carried away in the name of highlighting unfamiliar (but still poignant) dangers to the world without unnecessarily crying wolf.

Potential source of EDCs (endocrine disruptors)
Photo courtesy of Mk2010

With that, the lacking public awareness of endocrine disruptors — both the threat they pose to general health and their nearly omnipotent presence in the market place — can hardly be characterized as crying wolf, even if no one else is talking about it.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences claims, “Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.”

It’s difficult to understate how important the endocrine system is to the functionality of the human body. So let’s be clear – endocrine disrupting chemicals (or EDCs) don’t pose any lethal threats to those who ingest unhealthy doses; they do, however, pose a threat to the hormonal (and therefore, in some cases, cognitive and reproductive) development of those to whom they are exposed.

In essence, these chemicals inhibit the ways in which we become fully formed adult human beings. In fact, according to a report from the World Health Organization released earlier this month, many disorders and ailments that science has commonly associated with hindered developmental and hormonal functions (i.e. severe attention deficit disorder, even the recent epidemic of erectile dysfunction) can be attributed to exposure to unhealthy amounts of EDCs.

Even more concerning is that not only are EDCs very dangerous chemicals whose use by manufacturers is unparalleled, their use is also largely unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration even though they “have the ability to mimic natural hormones found in human and animal bodies, disrupting the hormone-regulating endocrine system,” according to Technician Online. Because of this mimicking ability, endocrine disruptors can also cause infertility and even cancer.

The NIEHS states that endocrine disruptors can be found in “everyday products” like “plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides” and can cause major health issues, but just how prevalent are products that contain EDCs in American retail stores?

“They’re pretty much ubiquitous to our marketplace,” Dr. Heather Patisaul of North Carolina State University tells BTR. “Some chemicals are in plastics, others are in cosmetics and personal care products, like shampoo and hand lotion.”

The list goes on, according to Dr. Patisaul: scented candles, laundry detergents, furniture – just to name a few. Despite the ubiquity of EDCs in every day items, they principally affect the body via ingestion, which is surprisingly a lot easier to do than one would think.

As Dr. Patisaul explains to BTR, “If you ate canned soup, endocrine disruptors probably leeched from the lining of that soup can into your soup and you ate them.”

Simple as that. Other ways Dr. Patisaul says consumers can unknowingly ingest EDCs is from plastic food containers that leak chemicals on to your food, as well as from household dust.

Though we know we are surrounded by endocrine disrupting compounds and that they pose significant risk to our health, it is difficult to know for sure how great that threat is since recent research has yet to identify every possible chemical that could qualify.

“It is amazing that right now, as [the World Health Organization study] points out, there are 800 different compounds  known or suspected to be capable of interfering with hormone receptors, hormone synthesis, or hormone conversion,” says Dr. Michael Hansen of the Consumers’ Union, the activist wing of Consumer Reports magazine. “However, only a small fraction of these chemicals have been investigated in tests capable of identifying overt endocrine effects in intact organisms.”

Assertions on the universality of EDCs would be hyperbolic if they didn’t serve a number of useful and cost saving functions for manufacturers across the board. Take for instance an EDC like phthalates, a chemical used widely to make plastic more flexible but also serves other purposes in industry.

“Since [phthalates] makes plastics more flexible, a lot of those same kinds of compounds are actually in cosmetics in America,” adds Hansen before quickly noting, “They’re banned Europe.”

For more on EDCs and the dangers they pose to the public, tune into this week’s episode of Third Eye Weekly, featuring interviews with Doctors Patisaul and Hansen. The episode airs this coming Thursday, March 7th at noon.

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