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Owen Bowcott, The Guardian
November 6, 2009
EU council urged to look at cumulative effect, campaigners fear controls will not be tough enough
Two-year-old children are being exposed to dangerous levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals in domestic products such as rubber clogs and sun creams, according to an EU investigation being studied by the government.
The 327-page report says that while risks from “anti-androgen” and “oestrogen-like” substances in individual items have been recognised, the cumulative impact of such chemicals, particularly on boys, is being ignored.
The EU’s environment council of ministers is due to agree on a regulatory approach to the use of so-called “gender-bender” compounds before Christmas. On Monday, EU officials will try to work out a strategy for creating risk assessments of products causing concerns. Environmental campaigners fear controls will favour industry and not be sufficiently robust.
Phthalates, one of the main anti-androgen chemicals, which are used as softeners in soap, rubber shoes, bath mats and soft toys, have been blamed for blocking the action of testosterone in the womb and are alleged to cause low sperm counts, high rates of testicular cancer and malformations of the sexual organs.
Research has suggested that male foetuses around 8-12 weeks after conception can be effectively demasculinised by exposure to such chemicals.
The report presented to the environment council and passed on to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) comes from Denmark, which has experienced a significant increase in the rates of testicular cancer.
The warnings are backed by the Chem (Chemicals Health and Environment Monitoring) Trust, a UK charity which has taken over campaigning work on toxic chemicals from the WWF (World Wildlife Fund).
The Danish study, Survey and Health Assessment of the exposure of two-year-olds to chemical substances in consumer products, concludes: “A few exposures to a high content of an endocrine-disruptor, such as that of [the phthalate] DBP in rubber clogs may result in a critical risk for the two-year-old.
“…The amounts that two-year-olds absorb from the [preservative] parabens propylparaben and butylparaben can constitute a risk for oestrogen-like disruptions of the endocrine system. This contribution originates predominantly from cosmetic products such as oil-based creams, moisturising creams, lotions and sunscreen.
“Not only is there a need to reduce exposure to anti-androgens and oestrogen-like substances from food products, indoor air and dust, but also to reduce exposure to [domestic] products, as these contribute to both indoor air and dust and to direct exposure.
“There is also a need to reduce possible contributions from other sources, such as propyl-, butyl- and isobutyl paraben in cosmetics, and phthalates in footwear (such as light-weight sandals and rubber boots).”
Gwynne Lyons, director of Chem Trust, said she feared the recommendations would not be heeded. “There are worries that Poland and the UK are more focused on protecting industry. Without public pressure, these countries will only agree to wording that sounds good, but actually falls short of ensuring that regulation is based on total exposure to, for example, so-called gender-bender chemicals.
“Both the public and wildlife are inadequately protected from harm, as regulation is based on looking at exposure to each substance in isolation, and yet it is now proven beyond doubt that hormone disrupting chemicals can act together to cause effects even when each by itself would not.”
Defra said: “Public safety is the government’s priority, and we will be reading the Danish report with interest. The potential for “cocktail effects” from different chemicals should not be ignored, and we support the European Union‘s Environment Council’s upcoming work on regulating combinations of chemicals.”
The government’s Interdepartmental Group on Health Risks from Chemicals has recently published a report offering a framework for assessing the risks of mixtures to human health. It suggested that cumulative risk assessment should not be the only way of approaching “cocktail effects”.
Hormone disrupting chemicals in household products
- Phthalates are used in the manufacture of rubber clogs, rubber boots, soap packaging, products made from PVC, bath mats and soft toys. They are also found in food products as a result of environmental pollution, according to the Danish study.
- Oestrogen-like substances, including chemicals known as parabens, occur in cosmetics, sun creams and moisturising lotions.
- Pesticides, such as DDT, dioxins and PCBs, are also known hormone-disruptors.
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