Fifteen years worth of research has made it clear that chemicals common in cosmetics, household products and medicines are wreaking havoc on our bodies, the European Environment Agency says. In a study published yesterday, the agency warns of “strong evidence” linking these endocrine disrupting chemicals—substances (like phthalates, bisphenol A and parabens) that disrupt the hormone system—to cancer, obesity, neurological problems and reduced fertility.
“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,” EEA Executive Director Jacqueline McGlade said. “It would be prudent to take a precautionary approach to many of these chemicals until their effects are more fully understood.”
The link between certain EDCs and some diseases—breast cancer, endometriosis, fibroids and polycystic ovarian syndrome—is well accepted. Many scientists believe BPA in particular is linked to obesity. In animal studies, there’s very strong evidence linking EDC exposure to thyroid, immune, reproductive and neurological problems similar to those that have been rising in humans.
But studying human exposure is tricky. Because these chemicals are so ubiquitous in our lives, it’s hard to isolate and prove the effects of any particular one. The fact that the effects of these chemicals can remain invisible for years or even decades from exposure also complicates human study, EEA notes. So does the fact that some of these chemicals may be harmless on their own, but become dangerous in combination with other hormone disrupting chemicals.