(NaturalNews) A new report from the United Nations says a number of synthetic chemicals which have not been tested for any disruptive effects they may have on the body's hormone system may have "significant health implications" for humans.
The report, entitled, "State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals," put together by the UN Environment Program (UNEP) and the UN's World Health Organization (WHO), "calls for more research to understand fully the associations between endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) - found in many household and industrial products - and specific diseases and disorders," according to a UN press release.
The report notes specifically that with better assessments and testing methods, potential disease risks could be mitigated, "with substantial savings to public health."
"We urgently need more research to obtain a fuller picture of the health and environment impacts of endocrine disruptors," said Dr. Maria Neira, the director for public health and environment for WHO.
Most 'comprehensive' study on EDCs to date
Human health depends in large part on a well-functioning endocrine system, say scientists, in order to regulate the release of certain hormones deemed essential for functions like metabolism, sleep, growth and development, and mood.
Some substances which are known as endocrine disruptors can change the functions of the hormonal system, thereby increasing risk for adverse health effects.
Some EDCs occur naturally, the UN report said, while synthetic varieties "can be found in pesticides, electronics, personal care products and cosmetics," said the UN release. Scientists also note that EDCs can also be found as contaminants or additives in foods.
The study - deemed the most comprehensive report on EDCs to date - highlights associations between exposure to EDCs and resultant health problems, including the potential for such chemicals to lead to non-descended testes in young males, breast cancer in women, developmental defects to the nervous system, prostate cancer in men, thyroid cancer, and attention deficit disorders and hyperactivity in kids.
Moreover, EDCs can enter the environment in a number of ways, the study found, namely through urban and industrial sources, agricultural run-off and the burning and release of garbage and waste. Human exposure can occur through eating food, through inhalation of dust and the drinking of water, breathing in gases and airborne particles, and by skin contact.
"Chemical products are increasingly part of modern life and support many national economies, but the unsound management of chemicals challenges the achievement of key development goals, and sustainable development for all," said UN Under Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
"Investing in new testing methods and research can enhance understanding of the costs of exposure to EDCs, and assist in reducing risks, maximizing benefits and spotlighting more intelligent options and alternatives that reflect a transition to a green economy," Steiner added.
The report said other environmental and non-genetic factors such as nutrition and age, in addition to chemical exposure, could also be responsible for increases in disease and disorders. Pinpointing exact causes; however, has been problematic because of wide knowledge gaps.
In addition to chemical exposure, other environmental and non-genetic factors such as age and nutrition could be among the reasons for any observed increases in disease and disorders. But pinpointing exact causes and effects is extremely difficult due to wide gaps in knowledge.
"The latest science shows that communities across the globe are being exposed to EDCs, and their associated risks," Neira said. "WHO will work with partners to establish research priorities to investigate links to EDCs and human health impacts in order to mitigate the risks. We all have a responsibility to protect future generations."
Besides humans, the report also raises similar concerns regarding the impact of EDCs on wildlife. In Alaska, for instance, exposure to such chemicals could contribute to reproductive defects, infertility and malformation of antlers in some deer populations.
More research, testing and collaboration needed
The UN also said:
Population declines in species of otters and sea lions may also be partially due to their exposure to diverse mixtures of PCBs, the insecticide DDT, other persistent organic pollutants, and metals such as mercury. Meanwhile, bans and restrictions on the use of EDCs have been associated with the recovery of wildlife populations and a reduction in health problems.
The study recommends:
-- Further testing. Known EDCs are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg, say UN scientists. "More comprehensive testing methods are required to identify other possible endocrine disruptors, their sources, and routes of exposure," the report concludes.
-- More research. Additional scientific evidence is necessary in order to "identify the effects of mixtures of EDCs on humans and wildlife."
-- Additional reporting. "Many sources of EDCs are not known because of insufficient reporting and information on chemicals in products, materials and goods."
-- Finally, collaboration. Sharing between countries and scientists can fill in some of the information gaps.