UN and WHO Issue Joint Report on Endocrine Disruptors

Troy Brown

February 25, 2013

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) found in many common products could have serious health implications for humans and wildlife, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Health Organization.

Åke Bergman, PhD, a professor at Stockholm University in Sweden, and colleagues edited State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals—2012, available on the World Health Organization's Web site. It is the most comprehensive such report to date.

"Close to 800 chemicals are known or suspected to be capable of interfering with hormone receptors, hormone synthesis or hormone conversion. However, only a small fraction of these chemicals have been investigated in tests capable of identifying overt endocrine effects in intact organisms," the authors note in the report.

EDCs are found in nature and are produced synthetically, such as bisphenol A. They can be found in products including pesticides, electronics, cosmetics and other personal care products, and food.

The new report examines the potential effects of EDC exposure on pediatric neural development, genital malformations in infant boys, attention deficit/hyperactivity in children, and endocrine-related cancers including prostate, breast, and thyroid, as well as other disorders.

"Chemicals also interfere with metabolism, fat storage, bone development and the immune system, and this suggests that all endocrine systems can and will be affected by EDCs," the authors write.

These chemicals enter the environment in many ways, including through industrial and urban emissions, agricultural run-off, and the processing of waste. Humans can be exposed to EDCs in food and water, EDCs in the air, and by skin contact.

Factors unrelated to chemical exposure, including environmental factors, maternal age, nutrition, and exposure to viruses, could also contribute to increases in diseases and disorders, but wide gaps in knowledge make it difficult to determine precise causes and effects.

Therefore the study's recommendations include:

  • Testing: Improved testing is needed to be sure that current testing methods are functioning properly and to identify other sources of EDCs.

  • Research: More research is needed to identify the effects of mixtures of EDCs on humans and wildlife.

  • Reporting: Insufficient reporting and information on chemicals in products and other items has resulted in incomplete identification of existing EDCs.

  • Collaboration: Scientists and countries need to share data on EDCs, especially in developing countries and emerging economies.

"Research has made great strides in the last ten years showing endocrine disruption to be far more extensive and complicated than realized a decade ago," said Dr. Bergman in a news release. "As science continues to advance, it is time for both management of endocrine disrupting chemicals and further research on exposure and effects of these chemicals in wildlife and humans."

State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals—2012. United Nations Environment Programme and the World Health Organization. Full text