The panel of experts in this presentation summarize what is known about endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) found in plastics that threaten human health.
What Are EDCs?
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are substances that interfere with the normal functioning of the endocrine system in humans and animals. The endocrine system is a complex network of glands that produce and release hormones, which are essential for regulating various bodily functions such as metabolism, growth and development, reproductive processes, and the immune system.
EDCs can mimic, block, or alter the natural hormones in the body, leading to hormonal imbalances and disruption of normal physiological processes. These chemicals can bind to hormone receptors, affect hormone synthesis, metabolism, or elimination, and modify hormone signaling pathways. They may also influence the production and release of hormones from endocrine glands.
EDCs can be found in various products and substances, including:
- Pesticides and herbicides: Some chemicals used in agriculture to control pests and weeds can act as EDCs.
- Plastics and plasticizers: Certain compounds, such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, used in the manufacturing of plastics, can leach into food and water and affect hormonal systems.
- Personal care products: Some cosmetics, shampoos, and lotions contain EDCs that can be absorbed through the skin.
- Industrial chemicals: Chemicals used in manufacturing processes, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins, can act as EDCs.
- Pharmaceuticals: Some medications can have endocrine-disrupting effects, especially those that affect hormone levels.
- Food additives: Certain additives used in food processing can also have endocrine-disrupting properties.
Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals has been associated with a wide range of health effects, including reproductive disorders, developmental abnormalities, hormone-related cancers, metabolic disorders, and immune system dysfunction.
As EDCs are widespread in our environment, there is ongoing research and regulatory efforts to better understand their effects and to limit exposure to these chemicals to protect human and environmental health.
Presentation: Five Harmful Chemicals to Watch Out For in Plastics
The following panel was hosted by The Endocrine Society in December of 2020. See the key points from each expert speaker below the video.
Summary of Presentation
Overall, the main point was that plastics contain a diverse array of EDCs beyond BPA, these are linked to many health effects, exposure is increasing, and there is a need for greater regulation and transparency around chemicals in plastics.
Here are the key points made by each speaker in the webinar:
- Dr. Judy Domino discussed endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that are present in plastics, including bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, and alkylphenols. She covered the health effects linked to these chemicals, such as reproductive disorders, cancer, diabetes, and neurological issues.
- Dr. Paulina Puzan discussed additional EDCs found in plastics, including perfluorinated compounds (PFOS, PFOA), brominated flame retardants, UV stabilizers like benzotriazoles, and toxic metals like lead and cadmium. She explained how these chemicals can leach out and cause health effects.
- Sara Brosché from IPEN discussed the projected increase in plastic and chemical production globally and the resulting increase in exposure to EDCs from plastics. She emphasized the need to reduce plastic production and remove hazardous chemicals.
- Dr. Puzan also presented on the new EU Chemicals Strategy which aims to identify and restrict EDCs, accelerate test methods, and restrict chemicals by families rather than single compounds.
Main Points from Dr. Judy Domino
Her main points covered the major EDCs present in plastics, how they leach out, and the range of health effects they have been associated with in studies. She provided details on the toxicity of key chemicals like BPA and phthalates.
- Many endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are present in the building blocks of plastics or used as additives during manufacturing.
- EDCs like bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, and alkylphenols can leach out of plastic products and contaminate the environment.
- These EDCs have been linked to reproductive disorders, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and neurological impairments in studies.
- BPA specifically has been shown to impact brain development, behavior, reproduction, and increase cancer risk.
- Replacement BPA chemicals like BPS and BPF have similar structures and may have similar toxicity.
- Phthalates reduce testosterone and estrogen levels, disrupt thyroid hormones, and are associated with fertility issues, diabetes, and obesity.
Main Points from Dr. Paulina Puzan
Her main points focused on covering additional concerning EDCs used as plastic additives and their health effects, as well as discussing new EU regulations targeting EDCs.
- She discussed additional endocrine disrupting chemicals found in plastics, including alkylphenols, perfluorinated compounds (PFOS/PFOA), brominated flame retardants, UV stabilizers, and toxic metals.
- Alkylphenols are surfactants used in paints, pesticides, cleaners, and personal care products. They are estrogenic and can disrupt male fertility.
- PFOS/PFOA are used for water/stain resistance in food packaging, cookware, textiles. They are persistent and linked to liver toxicity, thyroid disruption, lower birth weight.
- Brominated flame retardants are added to electronics, furniture, toys and are associated with thyroid hormone disruption and neurodevelopmental issues.
- Metals like lead and cadmium used in plastics are developmental neurotoxicants and can disrupt the endocrine system.
- She introduced the EU’s new chemical strategy which will identify and restrict EDCs, accelerate test methods, and restrict chemicals by families.
Main Points from Sara Brosché
Her main points emphasized the projected rise in plastic use and EDC exposures, the issues with plastic waste disposal, the need for regulatory action and corporate responsibility, and the role of individual consumers in driving change.
- Plastic and chemical production is projected to increase globally, which will likely increase human exposure and health impacts from EDCs in plastics.
- Plastic waste and microplastics release EDCs into the environment and food chain, contaminating ecosystems.
- Recycling and incineration of plastics is problematic – recycling transfers EDCs to new products, while incineration releases toxic emissions like dioxins.
- Concrete actions needed include: reducing plastic production drastically, removing hazardous additives, implementing policies to restrict EDCs, making producers responsible for plastic waste.
- People can take individual action by using alternatives to plastics, advocating for change, and pressuring companies to reduce plastic usage and reliance on EDCs.