Household chemicals 'causing serious diseases'

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Chemicals found widely in the home could be causing the big rises in cancers, intertility and other health problems seen in recent decades, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has warned.

It says that endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) may be a contributing factor behind the significant increases in cancers, diabetes and obesity, falling fertility, and an increased number of neurological development problems in both humans and animals.

EDCs can be found in food, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, household products and cosmetics.

The EEA reached its conclusions through a review of relevant scientific literature from the last 15 years.

"Scientific research gathered over the last few decades shows us that endocrine disruption is a real problem, with serious effects on wildlife, and possibly people", says EEA executive director Jacqueline McGlade.

"It would be prudent to take a precautionary approach to many of these chemicals until their effects are more fully understood."

The report shows clearly that there is strong evidence of harm from EDCs in some wildlife species, and in laboratory studies using rodent models for human health. However, says the EAA, the effects of EDCs on humans may be more difficult to demonstrate. Studies take longer, are more expensive, and have greater methodological difficulties. 

There's already a lot of evidence linking some diseases to EDCs. For example, exposure to oestrogen or to oestrogenic EDCs is an accepted risk factor for breast cancer, endometriosis, fibroids and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in women.
   
Some EDCs may also cause low quality semen, and others thyroid disease. Several studies have also linked exposure to some EDCs with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, attention deficit disorder and diminished cognitive function in children. 

However, says the EEA, things may be further complicated because mixtures of similarly acting EDCs in combination could contribute to an overall effect, whilst alone causing no harm.