Are you at greater risk of cancer, obesity, diabetes and infertility if you microwave your food in plastic containers? Are the same risks present when you use cling film, drink water from plastic containers or use certain types of cosmetics?
Some experts state that there are no risks, but concerned scientists state that there are real risks involved. They have raised questions about people’s reliance on chemicals which can be found in things we use on a daily basis, such as toothpaste, drink cans and cosmetics.
These chemicals are called ‘endocrine-disrupting chemicals’ or EDCs, and they interfere with the way that our glands produce hormones which govern everything we do. Hormones act as ‘chemical messengers’ which enter our bloodstream and target cells in particular organs. Once there, the message is received by receptors, which start a biological response.
However, EDCs cause disruption to this system by fooling organs into doing the incorrect thing. Once they reach the receptors, they mimic or block the messages of the hormones, which trigger abnormal responses.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) there are in excess of 800 of these chemicals present not only in products, but also in the food chain and the environment.
EDCs enter the environment via agricultural run-off, waste burning and waste water systems. It exposes us via dust, water, food ingestion, gas inhalation, skin contact and air particles.
The report which has been drafted identifies many links between EDC exposure and other problems, including cancer, stroke, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, obesity and asthma. It concluded that many synthetic materials which have not been tested for its effects on the hormone system of mankind could have an impact on our health and stated that urgent research is necessary.
Chemicals and Obesity
A huge Canadian study has linked the exposure of unborn children to certain chemicals, to the development of type-2 diabetes and obesity later in life. During 2011, the European Commission banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and the European Food Safety Authority reduces the recommended daily intake of BPAs, after it was linked to harmful effects on the kidneys, mammary glands and liver.
In America, recommendations have been issued to consumers to stop using plastic containers to microwave food as the heat could make the chemical leach out. They have also been asked to store foods in porcelain, stainless steel or glass containers and use fewer canned goods.
However, the message from the UK Food Standards Agency is reassuring. It states that there has been no conclusive link between exposure to these chemicals and harmful effect on human reproductive health.
The Endocrine Society, however, says there is no such thing as a tolerable level for EDCs and would like to see firmer controls implemented on BPA. It also focuses on phthalates, which is a group of chemicals used in the manufacture of plastics goods to make it more flexible. These chemicals have been linked to ‘feminising’ of boys in the uterus and behavioural problems in young children.
Its use has been banned in the manufacture of toys in the EU since 2005 and it appears that the partial ban imposed in America during 2008 will be extended.
The cosmetics industry has suffered as there have been suggestions that some ingredients may be EDCs. During 2012, the Danish Consumer Council requested that manufacturers stop using 17 EDCs. The manufacturers of 58 brands agreed to this, but some of the biggest brands, including L’Oreal did not and their products were named and shamed by the council.
L’Oreal remains adamant that their products ‘do not contain endocrine disruptors as officially defined by the WHO’.
However, campaigners have stated that the results of animal testing, and the increase in hormone-related problems justifies a ‘just in case’ ban.
Campaigners, experts and industries are fighting among themselves as to whether bans should be placed on certain products or not. While all this is going on, consumers can do little to protect themselves, but to take note of the ingredients of everything they purchase.
The WHO has admitted that it may never be possible to be completely sure that exposure to a certain substance cause a particular dysfunction or disease. However, it states that there are now sufficient clues to suspect that EDCs could be the cause of some unexplained problems which are affecting humans more frequently, including obesity and infertility, to justify that action is taken.
Evidence gathered against EDCs is increasing all the time. During the past five years, around 772 papers focusing on the dangers of the chemicals have reached the publication stage across the globe.
Image Credit: Ewen Roberts