BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Health  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
Medical notes
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Monday, 12 August, 2002, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Fears over 'gender-bending' chemicals
Lab work
There are fears that chemicals could damage health
A global report has failed to rule out risks to humans and wildlife from "endocrine disrupting" chemicals in the environment.

Experts at the World Health Organisation's International Programme on Chemical Safety say that research linking this type of pollution to health problems is patchy.


We owe it to our children and to wildlife to act now to eliminate exposure to man made hormone disrupting chemicals

Gwynne Lyons, WWF
However, it says that the known effects on wildlife are "extensive", and that more studies are needed to pinpoint the danger to humans.

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) often have the same properties as hormones that the body uses to control a wide variety of functions, including reproduction.

People may be widely exposed to them through pesticide residues remaining on food, plastics, household products and industrial chemicals.

Many experts are worried that exposure may be interfering with fertility - or even accelerating the growth of certain cancers.

However, apart from evidence linking high exposure levels with health problems, the evidence against them is inconclusive, says the report.

"The state-of-the-science assessment has revealed that our current understanding of the effects posed by EDCs to wildlife and humans is incomplete," it says.

"The evidence that high-level exposure may impact both humans and wildlife indicates that this potential mechanism of toxicity warrants our attention."

Health risks

In humans, EDCs have been linked to a number of health problems.

These include:

  • Endometriosis
  • Early puberty
  • Altered neural function
  • Immune system problems
  • Cancer - breast, testicular, prostate, thyroid and endometrial

A number of studies have reported a decline in human sperm quality - however, there is no firm link to EDC exposure.

Animal threat

In wildlife, problems have been noticed in many species.

Examples include population decline among Baltic seals due to exposure to pesticides such as PCBs and DDE, and eggshell thinning and altered gonadal development in birds of prey exposed to DDT.

A pesticide spill in a Florida lake caused a sharp population decline among alligators, while there are suspicions that fish are suffering because of EDCs in effluent.

Campaigners say that the evidence for potential harm to humans is already strong enough to support tough measures.

Gwynne Lyons, from WWF, said: "We cannot wait decades for precise causal mechanisms to be established.

"We owe it to our children and to wildlife to act now to eliminate exposure to man made hormone disrupting chemicals."

'Major health issues'

Dr Richard Sharpe, from the UK Society for Endocrinology, said:"It is becoming clearer that many of the major health issues that face humans in Western developed countries are associated with hormonal problems.

"Against this background, there is understandable concern that human exposure to certain environmental chemicals might cause or worsen conditions that result from altered hormonal action."

See also:

16 May 01 | Health
25 Jun 01 | Science/Nature
26 Jun 02 | Archive
24 Nov 01 | Health
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes