GUEST BLOG: Local changes for a healthier world
Published 18 Sep 2018
The words Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals sound strange and threatening. They are the main actors in a story full of concern, but at the same time full of hope.
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (known also as Endocrine Disruptors or EDCs) have the ability to imitate and to antagonize the action of our natural hormones. They are impostors of hormones, so our body cannot differentiate between natural hormones and synthetic substances, often with a similar structure. The link to breast and prostate cancer, infertility, autism, diabetes and other diseases has been reported by many scientists in the last decades.(1)
The bad news is that EDCs are used in lots of daily use products, like food additives, cleaners, toys, deodorants, air-fresheners, T-shirts, carpets, cooking items… The list is endless.
Everyone would ask obvious questions: How is it possible to find these substances so easily in so many products? Why do our governments ignore this issue and why do they fail in protecting citizen’s health? And, above all, what can we do to prevent exposure to EDCs and avoid some of the potentially related illnesses - cancer among them?
We considered the different strategies to address the problem. At the top is the European authorities that have been unsuccessfully discussing how to regulate EDCs for years and years. At the bottom are the citizens who trust the authorities to protect their health and are not trained to understand the labels of the products that can be harmful.
In the middle are the local authorities, including the town councillors, who take decisions that directly affect their neighbours. Without forgetting ours targets- the European and national level authorities, and education programs for doctors and citizens, we decided to put our efforts in the cities, with the help of Ecologistas en Acción, a Spanish organization also working on EDCs.
In 2016, the campaign "My city takes care of my hormones" was launched to get local councils involved in the protection of their citizens through 6 basic measures:
- Avoid the use of pesticides in parks, gardens, schools...
- Promote the consumption of organic foods in day-care centers, school canteens, residences and hospitals.
- Inform and train health professionals and educators about the risks and how to reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors.
- Promote the use of products free of endocrine disruptors, through public purchases and contracts.
- Reduce car traffic.
- Promote the reduction of the use of plastics (supermarket bags, food packages, single-use plastics).
Since then, 11 Spanish cities have approved a motion that includes these actions. Small municipalities of 3,000 inhabitants and others, like Madrid, of more than 3 million, have committed themselves to work for the health of their inhabitants.
The city of Madrid approved the motion in June 2017 with the only abstention from the Popular Party, which preferred to wait for the European Commission to adopt a decision on what limitations to establish for endocrine disruptors. However, the precautionary principle tells us that we should prevent pregnant women, babies, young children and other sensitive people from being exposed to these substances every day.
This has been well understood by the Madrid City Council, whose Heads of Health meet periodically with us in a working group to address issues such as the inclusion of specific clauses in contracts that prohibit the use of certain pesticides (glyphosate among them) and the rewards of including organic food in the menus of kindergardens.
The commitment of these few cities and their councillors, 2 years after starting the campaign, has introduced a big change for citizen’s health. Even when some citizens did not understand the measures in the beginning (e.g. slower clearing of weeds, difficulties with some pests, habit changes…), the new way of gardening, moving, buying and eating is somehow contagious and now many people look at these changes with sympathy and good expectations.
Those strange words “Endocrine Disruptors” are now more familiar. More people think twice before using plastics, more parents give their children organic food and more doctors know there is an environmental factor in the development of cancer and other diseases. Numbers are not high enough yet, but we are witnessing an exciting change.
Still, there are big challenges ahead. Reducing EDCs is not an easy pathway and many problems have shown up while working towards healthier cities. Workshops and meetings in which cities participate are a good opportunity to share experiences and to look for joint solutions.
For this purpose, the cooperation between local authorities and NGOs is important, but what is really essential is that citizens understand that these measures will improve their health in the long-term and that they have the right to ask their governments to apply these measures. Passing through all difficulties is worthy when that means less diseases and a better life for the next generations.
Written by Ruth Echeverría,Education and Researh Manager at Fundación Alborada.. Assistant Professsor at Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Member of the Environmental Health research group at Universidad de Granada.
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(1) Executive Summary to EDC-2: The Endocrine Society’s Second Scientific Statement on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals. A. C. Gore et al. Endocrine Reviews, December 2015, 36(6):593–602.
(2) “Mi ciudad cuida mis hormonas”, campaign by Fundación Alborada. Website and interactive map (in Spanish): https://miciudadcuidamishormonas.blogspot.com/