Many synthetic chemicals, untested for their disrupting effects on the hormone system, could have significant health implications according to the State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
The joint study calls for more research to understand fully the associations between endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs)—found in many household and industrial products—and specific diseases and disorders.
The report which was made available to the Ghana News Agency on Tuesday noted that with more comprehensive assessments and better testing methods, potential disease risks could be reduced with substantial savings to public health.
It said human health depended on a well-functioning endocrine system to regulate the release of certain hormones that were essential for functions such as metabolism, growth and development, sleep and mood.
It said some substances known as endocrine disruptors could alter the function(s) of this hormonal system, thus increasing the risk of adverse health effects.
The report said some EDCs occured naturally, while synthetic varieties could be found in pesticides, electronics, personal care products and cosmetics. They could also be found as additives or contaminants in food.
The UN study, which is the most comprehensive report on EDCs to date, highlights some associations between exposure to EDCs and health problems including the potential for such chemicals to contribute to the development of non-descended testes in young males, breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men, developmental effects on the nervous system in children, attention deficit /hyperactivity in children and thyroid cancer.
It said EDCs could enter the environment mainly through industrial and urban discharges, agricultural run-off and the burning and release of waste. Human exposure could occur via the ingestion of food, dust and water, inhalation of gases and particles in the air, and skin contact.
It said in addition to chemical exposure, other environmental and non-genetic factors such as age and nutrition could be among the reasons for any observed increases in disease and disorders, but noted that pinpointing exact causes and effects was extremely difficult due to wide gaps in knowledge.
The report also raised similar concerns on the impact of EDCs on wildlife.
It said in Alaska in the United States, exposure to such chemicals may contribute to reproductive defects, infertility and antler malformation in some deer populations.
It said population declines in species of otters and sea lions may also be partially due to their exposure to diverse mixtures of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the insecticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), other persistent organic pollutants, and metals such as mercury.
It said meanwhile, bans and restrictions on the use of EDCs had been associated with the recovery of wildlife populations and a reduction in health problems.
The study also made a number of recommendations to improve global knowledge of these chemicals, reduce potential disease risks, and cut related costs.