List of endocrine disruptorsThe not-so-happy families of toxic chemicals
If you want facts about some of the most worrying endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), we provide some detail here. But there could be over 1,000 EDCs and more chemicals are being listed as EDCs every year. CHEM Trust is working to ensure that we are better protected from EDCs.
Bisphenols such as bisphenol A (BPA), bisphenol S (BPS) and bisphenol F (BPF) are a group of chemicals widely used in the production of polycarbonate plastics and resins, including in food packaging.
BPA is the most well-known and commonly used bisphenol. It is one of the most widely used synthetic chemicals on the planet.
Most of us are exposed to the bisphenols through food and drink that has been in contact with the resins in food and drink cans or from plastic containers. But we are also exposed to them when handling thermal paper receipts and tickets.
Bisphenols have been found in the blood and urine of people throughout Europe. They are known to disrupt the body’s hormone system. Exposure to BPA has been linked to hormonal cancers, heart disease, reproductive issues, obesity, and negative impacts on brain development in children.
BPA has been classified in the European Union as a substance which is toxic for reproduction and has been identified as an EDC.
In the European Union BPA is banned from use in babies’ bottles and infant feeding cups.
From 2020 it is also being banned for thermal paper till receipts in order to protect the unborn babies of pregnant cashiers.
But as Europe moves to ban BPA from certain products, companies are starting to use other bisphenols that raise similar concerns about toxicity. This process of replacement is known as regrettable substitution and it’s why we need whole groups of chemicals banned, not just one chemical at a time.
You can read more about bisphenols in our report, ‘Toxic Soup’.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
PFAS are a family of over 4,000 fluorinated chemical compounds, used in many consumer products for their grease and water-repelling properties. Things like non-stick pans, waterproof and stainproof fabrics, paper and card food packaging, and cosmetics can all contain PFAS.
This family of chemicals is concerning for several reasons. First, they are persistent – their other name is the forever chemicals. This is because, once in our environment they hardly breakdown at all and will last for generations.
PFAS are also bioaccumulative and build up in the bodies of wildlife and people. The most studied chemicals of the group are known endocrine disruptors. They have been linked to thyroid disease, obesity, high cholesterol, reproductive issues and the development of certain cancers, including kidney and testicular cancer.
So far only two of the 4,000 chemicals in the group have been banned globally. And this has taken 10 years. If we continue at this rate it will take generations to ban the known problematic chemicals in the group.
There is some good news, though. In 2019 the Danish Ministry of Food and Environment announced that PFAS in paper and cardboard used in materials in contact with food would be banned in Denmark by July 2020. We need other governments to follow suit.
Read more about the PFAS chemicals in our briefing (pdf).
To join us in calling on UK supermarkets to stop using PFAS in their food packaging visit the Take action page.
Phthalates (pronounced thalates)
Phthalates are a group of chemicals often added to plastics to increase their flexibility and durability.
They can be found in many consumer products including furnishings, flooring, clothing, paints, some toys, toiletries and in materials in contact with our food such as plastic packaging.
Phthalates get into our bodies via a number of routes. We ingest them when we consume food and drinks that have been held in containers with phthalates in. We can also breathe them in when they wear off plastic products and mix with dust indoors. Children are more likely to be exposed to phthalates through this route as they put their hands in their mouth more and crawl on floors and carpets.
Phthalates are problematic for human health. Some are classified as toxic for reproduction or as having endocrine-disrupting properties. Exposure to phthalates in the womb has been linked to the disruption of reproductive organ development in boys, early onset of female puberty, and delayed language development.
The people most vulnerable to phthalate exposure are pregnant mums and children.
Due to these health concerns, some uses of certain phthalates in toys and other children’s products are partly restricted in the European Union. Any phthalate classified as toxic to reproduction can’t be used in cosmetics.
However, children and adults continue to be exposed to phthalates from other products, including food packaging. It is perverse that some phthalates are banned in children’s toys, as they may put them in their mouth, but they are not banned from food packaging.
Read more about phthalates in this leaflet produced by the EU Human Biomonitoring project (pdf).
The flame retardants
Flame retardants are a group of chemicals that are added to a large number of products in our homes, to prevent or slow down the spread of fires.
They can be added to sofas, mattresses, electronic products, carpeting, building materials and car seats.
Flame retardants are frequently released from the products they are used in, for example flame retardant coatings on fabrics fall off and mix in with household dust, which means that they can build up in the environment in our homes. They are also released into the environment through the production of the products, disposal and recycling.
The two main groups of flame retardants of most concern for human health are brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and organophosphorus flame retardants (OFRs). Many BFRs have been banned, but similar chemicals – with similar problems – are being used instead. We are still exposed to the banned chemicals as they are in furniture and other goods in our homes.
Many BFRs are bioaccumulative, building up inside the bodies of wildlife and humans. Some are known to be cancer causing, act as endocrine disrupting chemicals or can have a negative impact on the development of the brain. Some of the banned BFRs are globally controlled as they have been classified as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) by the UN. POPs last for a very long time in the environment and spread around the world.
Read more about flame retardants in this leaflet by Breast Cancer UK (pdf).
Read more about the impact of flame retardants on the developing brain in our report ‘No Brainer‘.