Common Chemicals Linked to Countless Health Problems

12 March 2013 by Larissa Long

When you open a can of tomato sauce or black beans to make dinner, or warm up a bottle for your child, the last thing you think is that you could be harming your family’s health. But that potential harm is very real, thanks to the slew of manmade chemicals floating all over our planet—right down to food/beverage containers and baby bottles.

In a 2012 update to a report titled “State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals”—originally released in 2002—a team of researchers from the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme discuss in detail the short- and long-term effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) on humans and wildlife.

Understanding EDCs

In short, EDCs interfere with the action of hormones in the body, and in doing so, produce adverse effects on health.

There are close to 800 different types of EDCs in our environment, and they are everywhere—including household cleaning products, air fresheners, hair dyes, cosmetics and even sunscreens.

Some of the most prolific EDCs are phthalates, which make plastics soft and flexible, and bisphenol-A (BPA), which hardens plastics. Phthalates can be found in toys, pharmaceuticals and perfumes and cosmetics that can easily be absorbed into the body.

Even more disturbing, BPAs can be found in the linings of food and beverage cans and even baby bottles (although the U.S., Canada and some European countries have banned the use of BPAs in bottles and toddler cups).

Other common EDCs include pesticides, alkylphenols (found in tires, adhesives, carbonless copy paper and rubber products) and polybrominated flame retardants (used in electronics).

Additionally, scientists are just now starting to understand the true extent of EDCs’ potential danger. But we do know that they interfere with tissue and organ development and function in people of all ages. More and more research is linking EDCs with breast cancer,1 diabetes and obesity,2 infertility,3 cognitive decline4 and even asthma.5

The report also sites thyroid, adrenal, bone and metabolic disorders, as well as neurodevelopmental problems in children. In fact, babies exposed to EDCs in the womb are at higher risk of developing behavioral and learning problems.6

Babies can be further exposed to EDCs through breast milk—and even some types of infant formula. Ready-to-feed liquid infant formula that gets stored in BPA-lined metal cans appears to have high concentrations of BPA.7

While the general consensus from this report is that a lot still needs to be learned about EDCs, their dangers should not be ignored. People (and wildlife) are exposed to far more EDCs now than ever before, but only a fraction of the potential EDCs in the environment are really understood. This leaves a lot of questions that remain unanswered.

Reducing Your Exposure to EDCs

Since EDCs are so widespread, it’s nearly impossible to avoid them all. But you can take steps to minimize your exposure—and every little bit can help. Here are some tips to do just that:

  • Choose BPA-free or non-plastic alternatives. When buying plastic products, make sure the product is labeled BPA-free. Or, better yet, opt for glass food storage containers and stainless steel water bottles. (Although be careful—stainless steel water bottles sometimes contain plastic liners, so be sure the bottle you choose does not.)
  • Avoid #3 and #7 plastics. These often contain BPA. The recycling codes with the numbers 1, 2 and 4 are your safest options if you do use plastic products.
  • Don’t heat plastic in the microwave. Doing so could cause chemicals to leach into foods or beverages.
  • Avoid or limit your consumption of canned food and beverages. The BPA that lines these containers often leaches into the food. If you do eat canned food, rinse the contents, if possible, prior to eating to lessen the amount of BPA you ingest.
  • Use natural and/or plant-based cosmetics and personal products. Read the labels on your hair and skin cleansers, moisturizers and other personal care products. Avoid anything that contains the preservative paraben—a definite EDC—and its many forms (methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben).

Also stay away from products that contain DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate) and DEP (diethyl phthalate), which are often found in nail polishes, deodorants, perfumes, hair products and many other personal care products. The very general and nondescript ingredient “;fragrance” should also raise a red flag.

Check the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, which evaluates the ingredients of almost 80,000 personal care products for EDCs and other chemicals.

While you can’t escape EDCs, limiting your exposure to certain ones can protect your health, and the health of future generations.


  1. Macon MB and Fenton SE. J Mammary Glan Biol Neoplasia. 2013 Mar;18(1):43-61.
  2. DeCoster S and van Larebeke N. J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:713696.
  3. Caserta D, et al. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2013 Jan 24. [Epub ahead of print.]
  4. Weiss B. Neurotoxicology. 2007 Sep;28(5):938-50.
  5. Dodson RE, et al. Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Jul;120(7):935-43.
  6. State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals—2012.
  7. Environmental Working Group.


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