BLOG: The Rise and Rise of Hormone Disrupting Chemicals
Published 28 May 2019
It’s been fifteen years since Breast Cancer UK started campaigning to raise awareness of Breast Cancer’s potential link to hormone disrupting chemicals in everyday consumer products - from lipsticks to sofas. We’re not alone in this, and it's great news that the impact of these EDCs (as they are called in the world of science) are now being taken much more seriously by lawmakers both in the UK and further afield.
Last month the UK’s Environmental Audit Committee began an inquiry into toxic chemicals in everyday products and has just released a consumer survey to gauge how much awareness there is amongst consumers about harmful chemicals in everyday products.
In tandem, the European Parliament has recently adopted a Resolution calling on the Commission to address a large body of scientific evidence showing the health and environmental damage caused by EDCs in cosmetics, toys and food packaging. In fact, the situation is becoming so critical that some countries, such as Demark, Sweden and Belgium, have already taken matters into their own hands. Even the US state of California, last year, brought in a ban on the use of most flame retardants (which contain hormone disruptors) in furniture, children's products and mattress foam.
So why has it taken so long for policy makers to even sit up and take notice? It’s not as if the issue hasn’t been in the public domain for a while. The history of dangerous chemicals being banned is a complicated one. New chemicals are often produced in relation to a problem that needs solving, and very often it’s not until years later that there’s substantial proof those chemicals are harmful. The trouble is, by the time the evidence is there the chemicals have embedded themselves in all kinds of things. Sadly, some toxic chemicals banned over 40 years ago are still being found in our ecosystems.
Take DDT for example, the synthetic insecticide developed in the 1940s which poisoned wildlife and endangered human health. This wasn’t banned in the UK until 1984, despite the problems highlighted by campaigner Rachel Carson in her book, Silent Spring which was published some 20 years earlier. Another toxic pollutant PCB, developed in the 1920s for use in insulation and lubrication for equipment, was well established in the food chain by the time it was banned almost 50 years later.
That’s why at Breast Cancer UK we have always based our campaigning on the precautionary principle enshrined in EU Law. What we’re saying is, that in some cases, it’s necessary to make decisions based on the possible risks of not taking action. In other words, sometimes action may be needed even if uncertainty exists, especially where there is potential for adverse effects to human health. We feel this type of foresight is absolutely necessary when it comes to breast cancer. Otherwise how can we avoid the kinds devastation, wrought by high incidents of breast cancer, which may be too late to change?
That’s why, regardless of the outcomes of Brexit, we’ve been calling for the UK, to follow the examples of France and Scandinavian counties, and to adopt its own national strategy to reduce exposure to EDCs. We want legal commitments to enhance regulation, or even ban these chemicals outright, where necessary. And, at the very least, we want people to be aware of the potential links between hormone disrupting chemicals and all kinds of cancer, not just that of the breast.
To take part in the Environment Audit Committee consumer opinion survey on harmful chemicals in everyday products go here
For details on the harm caused by hormone disrupting chemicals (or EDCs) check out our science pages here