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More research needed on EDCs, says UN report

By Joe Whitworth , 19-Feb-2013
Last updated on 19-Feb-2013 at 13:27 GMT

More research is needed on endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) to assess potential effects on health, according to a UN report.  

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) report said only the “tip of the iceberg” has been looked at when it comes to EDCs.

The report, edited by Åke Bergman, Jerrold J. Heindel, Susan Jobling, Karen A. Kidd and R. Thomas Zoeller, identifies that close to 800 chemicals are known or suspected to be capable of interfering in terms of hormone receptors, synthesis or conversion.

But only a small fraction has been investigated in tests capable of identifying overt endocrine effects.

“The vast majority of chemicals in current commercial use have not been tested at all,” said the State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals report.

“This lack of data introduces significant uncertainties about the true extent of risks from chemicals that potentially could disrupt the endocrine system.”

The report identified the need to strengthen the knowledge of EDCs, improved testing, aim to reduce exposure, identify endocrine active chemicals, collaborate and data share across the EU and a widely agreed method for evaluating evidence.

BPA is one such chemical used in food packaging and is the subject of ongoing debate .

Lack of information

Better information on how and when EDCs act is needed to reduce exposures during development and prevent disease, said Ake Bergman et al. 

Worldwide, there has been a failure to adequately address the underlying environmental causes of trends in endocrine diseases and disorders, said the report.

The report said “there is justifiable concern that different EDCs can act together and result in an increased risk of adverse effects on human and wildlife health.”

“It is critical to move beyond the piecemeal, one chemical at a time, one disease at a time, one dose approach currently used by scientists studying animal models, humans or wildlife.”

Understanding the effects of the mixtures of chemicals to which humans and wildlife are exposed is increasingly important, it added.

Evaluation system

There is currently no widely agreed system for evaluating the strength of evidence of associations between exposures to chemicals (including EDCs) and adverse health outcomes.

“We urgently need more research to obtain a fuller picture of the health and environment impacts of endocrine disruptors,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO’s director for public health and environment.

“The latest science shows that communities across the globe are being exposed to EDCs, and their associated risks.”

Adding to the complexity, are the unknown or unintended by-products that are formed during chemical manufacturing, combustion processes and via environmental transformations.

“While the active ingredients in pharmaceuticals and pesticides have to be documented on the final product, this is not the case for chemicals in articles, materials and goods.

“Many sources of EDCs are not known because of a lack of chemical constituent declarations in products, materials and goods.”

Professor Åke Bergman of Stockholm University and chief editor of the report, said: “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.”

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