In a newly published authoritative report, scientists on behalf of the Endocrine Society and the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) have outlined the various ways exposure to plastics can disrupt a person’s endocrine system.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the endocrine system describes the various components of a person’s body that govern the response to a person’s hormones.
These include glands found in various locations in a person’s body, the hormones that these glands secrete, and the organs affected by these hormones.
There is mounting evidence that a disruption of this system can have severe consequences for a person’s health.
A person’s endocrine system can be disrupted through exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Researchers have shown that these can intensify or directly cause many conditions, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and some types of cancer.
The present report highlights that, at a conservative estimate, there are more than 1,000 chemicals widely used today that can disrupt a person’s endocrine system. These chemicals are typically present in plastics that can then leech into a person’s body.
Plastics containing EDCs are found extensively throughout the world, including in packaging, food production, cookware, healthcare settings, children’s toys, furniture, electrical goods, textiles, cosmetics, and vehicles.
Further, a person can be exposed to EDCs throughout the life span of a plastic product, including its manufacture, use, and eventual disposal.
The report’s lead author Prof. Jodi Flaws, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, explained: “Many of the plastics we use every day at home and work are exposing us to a harmful cocktail of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Definitive action is needed on a global level to protect human health and our environment from these threats.”
Better control of EDCs?
The report is preceded by a foreword from Franz Xaver Perrez, the Swiss Ambassador for the Environment. In May 2020, Switzerland submitted a proposal to the Stockholm Convention — a global instrument for controlling hazardous chemicals — to recognize the ultraviolet stabilizer and plastic additive UV-328 as dangerous to health.
According to Perrez, “It is our collective responsibility to enact public policies to address the clear evidence that EDC in plastics is hazards threatening public health and our future.”
Despite the growing evidence on the harmful effects of EDCs, regulations on their use have so far been limited.
In addition to the current burden that EDCs place on human health, the report is particularly urgent given the projections suggesting a significant increase in the near future in the manufacture of plastics that contain them.
According to Pamela Miller, IPEN co-chair, “This report clarifies that the current acceleration of plastic production, projected to increase by 30–36% in the next 6 years, will greatly exacerbate EDC exposures and rising global rates of endocrine diseases.”
She added: “Global policies to reduce and eliminate EDCs from plastic and reduce exposures from plastic recycling, plastic waste, and incineration are imperative.
EDCs in plastics are an international health issue that is felt acutely in the global south, where toxic plastic waste shipments from wealthier countries inundate communities.”
A particularly pernicious effect of EDCs is the damage they are thought to cause fetal development. According to recent research, EDCs have been associated with the slowing of fetal growth, neurological disorders, and disruption to the thyroid.
Evidence from animal studies suggests these effects can last generations.
For co-author Dr. Pauliina Damdimopoulou, of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, “Endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure is not only a global problem today, but it poses a serious threat to future generations.”
“When a pregnant woman is exposed, EDCs can affect the health of her child and eventual grandchildren. Animal studies show EDCs can cause DNA modifications that have repercussions across multiple generations,” she added.
The Endocrine Society suggests that people try to reduce their exposure to EDCs by learning which products typically contain these chemicals and finding replacements for those products.