Man-made chemicals in everyday products are likely to be at
least the partial cause of a global surge in birth deformities, hormonal
cancers and psychiatric diseases, a U.N.-sponsored research team reported on
These substances, dubbed EDCs, could also be linked to a
decline in the human male sperm count and female fertility, to an increase in
once-rare childhood cancers and to the disappearance of some animal species,
"It is clear that some of these chemical pollutants can
affect the endocrinal (hormonal) system and ....may also interfere with the
development processes of humans and wildlife species," the report
The international group, academic experts working under the
umbrella of the United Nations environmental and health agencies UNEP and WHO,
issued their findings in a paper updating a 2002 study on the potential dangers
of synthetic chemicals.
Declaring "a global threat that needs to be
resolved," the team said humans and animals across the planet were
probably exposed to hundreds of these often little-studied or understood
compounds at any one time.
"We live in a world in which man-made chemicals have
become part of everyday life," said their 28-page report, "State of
the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, 2012," issued as a policy
guide for governments.
EDCs include phthalates long used in making plastics soft
and flexible. Products made from them include toys, children's dummies,
perfumes and pharmaceuticals, as well as cosmetics like deodorants that are
absorbed into the body.
Another is Bisphenol A, or BPA, which is used to harden
plastics and is found in food and beverage containers, including some babies'
bottles and the coating of food cans.
A few countries - including the United States, Canada and
some European Union members - have already banned the use of some of them in
certain products, especially those destined for the use of children.
But, the report said, "many hundreds of thousands"
are in use around the world and only a small fraction had been assessed for
their potential to spark disease by upsetting the endocrinal, or hormonal,
systems of humans and animals.Experts believe that in general, such chemicals
can be absorbed into drinks and food from the containers they come in.
Components not identified
The team, created by a 17-year-old chemical management body
called the IOMC working with a range of U.N. agencies, said a key problem was
that manufacturers of consumer products did not identify many of their chemical
Consequently, the researchers said, they had only been able
to look at "the tip of the iceberg". Disease risk from the use of
EDCs - or what could be even more dangerous a combination of them - "may
be significantly underestimated."
Using studies of the effect of the chemicals on humans and
animals, the team added, a link to EDCs could be suspected in breast and
prostate cancer, diabetes, infertility, asthma, obesity, strokes, and Alzheimer
and Parkinson's diseases.
Babies exposed to EDCs in the womb or in puberty, these
studies suggested, were especially vulnerable to developing these diseases in
later life as well as behavioral and learning problems like dyslexia as
In many countries, these disorders affected 5-10 percent of
babies born, while autism was now recorded at a rate of one percent. Childhood
leukemia and brain cancer is also on the rise, according to the report.
"All of these complex non-communicable diseases have
both a genetic and an environmental component," it said.
"Since the increases in incidence and prevalence cannot
be due solely to genetics, it is important to focus on understanding the
contribution of the environment to these chronic disease trends in
The researchers said their report had been based largely on
studies in the developed world. But the size of the problem in developing
countries had yet to be adequately assessed due to a lack of data from Africa, Asia
and Latin America.