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World Health Organization warns of health risks from synthetic chemicals

February 25, 2013

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a new report alerting that exposure to synthetic chemicals has a serious negative impact on human health. According to the global health watchdog, the danger comes from so-called "gender-bending" compounds that are very common in a range of everyday products, such as toys, baby bottles and credit cards.

Experts from the WHO claim that these chemicals need to be banned from use because they put the health and life of future generations at risk. Still, the report acknowledges that there is a need for a thorough investigation into the link between endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and a number of specific diseases and disorders. The WHO research indicated that there was a correlation between exposure to EDCs and testicular problems, breast, prostate and thyroid cancer. In addition, they were found to affect the development of the nervous system in children and could be linked to attention deficit hyperactivity in children.

The report, titled "State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals," followed more than two years of research and is the most detailed and encompassing study on EDCs to date, as it took into account a number of chemicals and related evidence rather than focusing on just one. Researchers concluded that it was "reasonable to suspect" that substances known as phthalates, often found in bisphenol A and pesticides, damaged female fertility and increased the risk of childhood illnesses such as leukaemia.

The study also raised concerns about the use of bisphenol A, a substance that is found in a number of daily items, such as sunglasses and cans, suggesting there were reasons to believe that bisphenol A affected human hormones that are involved with development and growth. Bisphenol A has been at the center of scientific and industry debate for a long time and so far neither position has been able to dominate. However, the WHO claimed that there was strong evidence in animals that these substances can interfere with thyroid hormones, potentially leading to brain damage, a decrease in intelligence, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism.

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The report found a link between various agricultural pesticides and prostate cancer. Pesticides also pose a threat to wildlife, WHO experts added. EDCs cause a lot of harm to all hormonal systems, ranging from those that control development and the reproductive system, to those that deal with metabolism and satiety. Exposure to such chemicals can have a number of adverse effects on humans, including obesity, infertility, learning difficulties, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the report argued.

Ten years ago the WHO issued another report that looked at the same matter but then it only found "weak evidence" of any potential harm to human health. WHO, WHO director for public health and the environment, commented that the latest research had found serious evidence of how exposure to EDCs can affect communities. The WHO will continue to collaborate with its partners on investigating EDCs and their effect on human health, Neira added.

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