There are at least three good reasons to learn about endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs):
EDCs can harm every organ in your body. This danger starts in the womb and can be particularly dangerous to the developing fetus, infants, and children.
EDCs are everywhere. In food, toys, cosmetics, medicines, and plastics as well as throughout the environment. You and I are even likely to have EDCs in our bodies.
Science and regulatory protection from EDCs don't always match. While scientific evidence linking EDCs to health effects is strong, regulations have not always kept up with the latest endocrine science, which continues to give us more insight. It just isn't safe to assume you are protected from all the dangers of EDCs.
By interfering with our hormones, EDCs prevent our interconnected hormone systems from functioning normally. This creates health problems. In fact, the data linking some EDCs or entire classes of EDCs to chronic disease is comparable in strength and breadth to the evidence that links tobacco smoking with lung cancer.
Learn more about how hormones work in the video below and hear from experts who have deep knowledge of the crisis we face:
A Growing Concern
You might know about chemicals such as lead, BPA, and DDT, all of which are EDCs. But did you know,
Not just in Flint, Michigan, but all over the country people are concerned about lead in drinking water. This is because lead, even low levels, can cause long-term mental difficulties in children. Higher levels can cause problems with the developing brain, kidneys, and bones.
Six major manufacturers of baby bottles removed BPA from their products after a public outcry. The FDA had expressed concern about potential effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate glands of fetuses, infants, and young children. Yet nearly all of us have BPA in our bodies because it’s still in the linings of canned foods and drinks, dental sealants, and other items.
DDT was one of the first widely used pesticides. Although it was effectively, it had disastrous effects on species far beyond insects as it was detailed in Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring. Her testimony led the US Congress to create the Environmental Protection Agency, which quickly banned the use of DDT out of concern for the environment and human health. DDT is still used in other countries, and other pesticides being used in the United States may be EDCs.
You might also have read about how the World Health Organization and the global scientific community are calling for reduced exposures to EDCs, or how the American Chemical Society is recommending safer alternatives.
A Review of the Science
In 2015, the Endocrine Society analyzed 1,800 studies on EDCs and published an evidence-based scientific statement. We found clear evidence showing how EDCs disrupt our hormones and harm our health. They are linked to male and female reproductive disorders, obesity, diabetes, neurological problems, immune and thyroid disorders, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease, and hormone-related cancers.
The science is still catching up to the problem. We’ve learned about the effects of many EDCs, but how many others are there? How do they work together as mixtures? And what are their effects over time?
Answering these questions requires further research and new approaches that take into account the interconnected nature of hormones, chemicals, and our world.
Meanwhile, you’ll have questions. Is that aluminum can bad for me? Should I throw out my children’s plastic baby bottles? Which products are EDC-free?
As EDC awareness, scrutiny, and media coverage increase around the world, remember that all conclusions should be grounded in scientific research that includes the expertise of scientists and clinicians who have detailed knowledge of hormone biology and endocrine systems – such as the people who comprise our rich membership. On the EDC topic page, you can continue to find research updates and news from the Endocrine Society.
A Regulatory Lag
Studies show that even low doses of EDCs can cause harm humans and other biological systems. EDCs can stay in your body and cause cumulative effects over a lifetime. Some studies show that EDC effects can even be passed from parent to child (i.e., transgenerational).
Yet unlike other harmful substances, such as tobacco or asbestos, very few US regulations exist for the manufacturing and use of EDCs. Industrial chemicals don’t have to be tested for endocrine-disrupting qualities before they go on the market. Only rarely are producers required to assess these specific safety concerns or provide that data to the federal government. Even when tested, there often limitations in the information we have available and current approaches to how the effects of EDCs are assessed.