Medical Doctors and Scientific Experts Agree: We Must Prevent Toxic Chemical Exposures to Protect our Health

The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), an organization representing obstetrical and gynecological associations from 125 countries, issued a stunning report on the links between reproductive health harm and our exposure to toxic chemicals that permeate the places we live, work, learn, and play.

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Miscarriages, still births, cancers, learning deficits and behavioral impairments are all linked to common industrial chemicals in our food, air, furniture, cosmetics, and even baby products. "Exposure to toxic environmental chemicals during pregnancy and breastfeeding is ubiquitous and is a threat to healthy human reproduction," the report states.

The report was authored by an international team of physicians and scientists including experts from the World Health Organization, and published in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics.

"We are drowning our world in untested and unsafe chemicals and the price we are paying in terms of our reproductive health is of serious concern," Gian Carlo Di Renzo, a physician and lead author of the FIGO opinion.

The FIGO report also notes that the risk is relevant for both women and men of childbearing age. Chemically-damaged sperm and egg cells in the dad or mom can lead to next-generation harm in their children.

A recent scientific statement of the prestigious professional association of endocrine experts, the Endocrine Society, documented the link between endocrine disrupting chemicals in our environment and health ailments including obesity, diabetes, female and male reproductive abnormalities, breast and prostate cancers, and neurodevelopmental disorders. (See full article published in Endocrine Reviews, September 2015).

"The evidence is more definitive than ever before - EDCs disrupt hormones in a manner that harms human health," said Andrea C. Gore, Professor and Vacek Chair of Pharmacology at the University of Texas at Austin and chair of the task force that developed the statement. "Hundreds of studies are pointing to the same conclusion, whether they are long-term epidemiological studies in human, basic research in animals and cells, or research into groups of people with known occupational exposure to specific chemicals."

The chemical industry argues that the dose makes the poison - the discredited idea that at low doses even a very toxic chemical could be safe. This mantra, attributed to the physician Paracelsus about 500 years ago fails to account for modern scientific understanding of increased sensitivity of many individuals due to various factors including early life stages of development or disease state. Race and poverty can also make people more vulnerable to toxic environmental assault, such as by reducing the body's ability to fight disease, reducing access to medical screening and treatments, and increasing the likelihood of multiple harmful exposures adding together. The FIGO report references a 2009 National Academy of Sciences report when it concludes that, "in the absence of evidence to the contrary, any level of exposure should be assumed to be potentially harmful - i.e. that there is no 'safe dose' ".

The FIGO report makes important recommendations for prevention, including supporting public policies to prevent exposure to toxic environmental chemicals, to protect human health and a healthy environment. Like the FIGO report, the Endocrine Society statement calls for education for the public and policymakers on ways to keep endocrine disrupting chemicals out of food, water and the air, as well as ways to protect unborn children from exposure.

In an article by Mother Jones on the FIGO report, Dr. Tracey Woodruff, an associate professor at the University of California-San Francisco, is quoted as saying, "while there are ways individuals can limit their exposure--including building better health practices overall and eating a pesticide-free, healthy diet--more needs to be done to protect everyone."

For this reason, NRDC is fighting for policies that require new chemicals be tested before being approved for commercial uses, regulated so as to prevent harmful exposures and environmental releases, and re-assessed when new evidence of harm is available.

About the Authors

Jennifer Sass

Senior Scientist, Health program

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