Endocrine disruptors’ link to infertility confirmed

Endocrine disruptors are thought to cause two diseases responsible for 70% of infertility cases. [barcai9527/Flickr]

More and more women are finding it difficult to get pregnant, with mounting evidence suggesting chemicals used in plasticisers and pesticides are responsible. The consequences are estimated to cost the EU €1.4 billion per year. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Avoiding chemicals completely in everyday life is impossible, despite endocrine-disrupting substances being considered a health hazard.

But as more women struggle to get pregnant or even discover that they are infertile, there appears to be enough scientific evidence to point the finger at some substances used in pesticides and plastic products.

As a new study now shows, at least two common female diseases that lead to reproductive difficulties often develop due to substances used in those products.

The scientists involved in the study found endometriosis, a chronic disease of the uterus’ lining, and uterine fibroids, benign tumours in the uterus, are both attributable to endocrine disruptors. Both diseases can cause infertility and are usually very painful.

At least 70% of affected women that suffer from fertility problems exhibit at least one of these two diseases, according to the researchers.

The study, published in the ”Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism” estimates that the issue costs Europe €1.4 billion euros every year. The bill is accumulated due to healthcare spending and loss of working hours.

Endocrine disruptors: ‘Better Regulation’ or better public health?

Endocrine disruptors pose a substantial risk to public health, yet the European Commission has dawdled time and again on introducing measures that would finally limit their use. Now is the time to put this right, write Genon Jensen and Michael Warhurst.

The study tested substances including DEHP and DDE. DEHP, a plasticiser, is classified by the EU’s chemicals regulation (REACH) as a “substance of very high concern”. Its use in the production of toys and other products intended for use by children is banned. However, EU member states are currently considering authorising the incorporation of DEHP in plastics that would be usable in several consumer products.

DDE, a byproduct of the DDT pesticide, was banned decades ago in Europe. Several studies have shown that some components of the poison build up in the fatty tissues of animals and humans, meaning that they stay in the food chain for a significant period of time.

The fact that pesticides and other pollutants stay in the environment long after their use was recently demonstrated by a study conducted in South-East France, where traces of DDT were found in a soil sample, despite it not having been used for many years. Researchers in the United States have also found that DDT could contribute to the onset of Alzheimers.

Leonardo Trasande, a professor of paediatrics, environmental medicine and public health at New York University warned that: “Although millions of women worldwide suffer from these two gynaecological diseases, we acknowledge that this analysis only shows the tip of the iceberg.”

A growing body of evidence tends to suggest that exposure to endocrine disrupters is linked to a wider range of female reproductive problems such as infertility and complications during pregnancy, he argues. “These diseases also represent a significant cost to women, their families and society,” Trasande added.

Brussels promises hormone disruptors definition 'by this summer'

The European Commission has responded to criticism over its weaknesses on health and food safety with a series of goodwill gestures on hormone disruptors and glyphosate. EURACTIV France reports.

“This study adds half a billion to the already amazing bill of €157 billion that Europe has to pay every year because of health problems related to our exposure to environmental hormones,” said Lisette van Vliet, policy advisor to the Health and Environment Alliance, a public health NGO.

Europeans’ health will continue to be jeopardised if the use of a known toxic chemical is allowed in cheap, poor quality plastic products, especially since “much safer alternatives” to these chemicals are available, EPHA argues.

An increasing number of cancer and fertility problems have drawn the attention of researchers to endocrine disruptors. Some call for strict regulation of these substances, in accordance with the precautionary principle.

Other scientists, however stress the importance of these chemicals in everyday products such as plastics. They say an important distinctions need to be made as not all endocrine 'active' substances are necessarily endocrine 'disrupting'.

The devil is in the detail, they argue: to identify a substance as an endocrine disruptor, it must be proven to have a damaging impact on health linked to an endocrine mechanism, which is not easy to demonstrate.

Endocrine disruptors: Harmful or not?

Rising levels of cancers and fertility problems have attracted scientists’ attention to endocrine disrupting chemicals, with some calling for strict regulation of the substances, in line with the precautionary principle. Others meanwhile, stress the worthiness of those chemicals in everyday products such as plastics and warn that the foundations of science risk being turned upside down if precautionary measures are taken.

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