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Health impacts from hormone disrupting chemicals cost EU countries billions

New research, published today, finds that the costs across the EU of exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals could be over €150 billion annually in health care expenses and lost earning potential. Chemicals with hormone (or endocrine) disrupting properties (EDCs) are present in many everyday products and are frequently used as pesticides, but industry lobbying has delayed EU action to identify them and restrict their use.

The papers (overview, neurobehavioralmale reproduction and obesity & diabetes),  published today in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism looked at a variety of health conditions that can partly be attributed to EDC exposure. These ranged from infertility and male reproductive dysfunction, birth defects, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and neurobehavioural and learning disorders. The graphic below summarises the findings of the papers.

As the press release states:

In the EU, researchers found the biggest cost driver was loss of IQ and intellectual disabilities caused by prenatal exposure to pesticides containing organophosphates. The study estimated the harm done to unborn children costs society between €46.8 billion and €195 billion a year. About 13 million lost IQ points and 59,300 additional cases of intellectual disability per year can be attributed to organophosphate exposure.

Adult obesity linked to phthalate exposure generated the second-highest total, with estimated costs of €15.6 billion a year.”

Leo Trasande, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Environmental Medicine & Population Health at New York University Langone Medical Center led the team of eighteen researchers across eight countries. He emphasised the rigour of the study to CHEM Trust:

“We leveraged methods used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, WHO and the Danish EPA to account for uncertainties and probabilities of causation  in this analysis.”

He also pointed out that the evidence of causation was particularly strong for some of the chemicals in the study:

“Among other studies, three longitudinal cohorts with reproducible findings identifying early life effects of organophosphates and brominated flame retardants, accompanied by toxicological studies with findings consistent with those in humans, reflect substantial evidence for causation.

The research looks at adverse health effects from a small range of chemicals, including:

  • Flame retardants (PBDEs): These have been restricted in the EU for many uses in recent years, but exposure continues due to their persistent and bioaccumulative properties. Restrictions on decaBDE are currently under discussion in the context of REACH
  • Bisphenol A (BPA), which is used extensively, for example in food can linings and in till receipts. Official safe exposure levels have recently been reduced, though not far enough in our view;  there is currently a debate as to whether the use of BPA in till receipts should be banned.
  • Phthalates including DEHP, which is used in PVC. The European Commission is currently deciding whether DEHP’s current use in PVC for consumer products should be permitted.

Ninja Reineke of CHEM Trust said:

“This research finds that the benefits to society from reducing exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals are tremendous. People and wildlife are exposed to a wide range of hormone disrupters, including from food, household products and house dust. We need rapid action from the EU and governments to get these chemicals out of our lives.”

She added:

“The research shows the scale of the economic savings that Europe could gain by identifying and phasing out exposure to hormone disrupters. The European Commission needs to move rapidly to define good criteria to identify hormone disrupters, and must refuse the proposed authorisation for continued use of DEHP in everyday PVC products”

The launch of the papers in the context of the Endocrine Society’s 97th Annual Meeting come at an important time and provide significant information to inform the ongoing impact assessment of the EU Commission on criteria for EDC s. This research follows on from the publication last November of a study commissioned by Nordic governments, which found that the damage due to a small number of male reproductive health disorders from exposure to EDC is likely to cost many millions of euros every year in the EU.