Endocrine disruptors

A baby sits among cuddly toys with a ball in its hand.Click to enlarge
Endocrine disruptors are substances that interfere with the hormonal system.
Source: Franz_Pfluegl / Fotolia.com

In Germany the reproductive health of men is at risk. Recent representative studies performed in Hamburg and Leipzig clearly show that the male sperm quality is low. Today, young German men probably produce only one third of sperms their peers did thirty years ago. It is likely that half of young male Germans have such a low sperm quality that their ability to reproduce successfully is reduced.

Results of animal experiments and human health monitoring programmes indicate that this reduction may be caused at least partially by chemicals in the environment that interfere with the hormonal system. These chemicals are called endocrine disrupters and are suspected of disturbing developmental programming prenatally and during early childhood leading to developmental anomalies and disease later in life. 

For 30 years, Germany and other countries have seen an increase in the incidence of those forms of cancer that are hormonally dependent. The likelihood for German men to contract testicular cancer or prostate cancer and for women to contract breast cancer over their lifetime is 50 percent higher today than it was thirty years ago.

The hypothesis that hormonally active chemicals may be one cause for these adverse health effects is broadly discussed among scientists. It is difficult to prove a causal link but results of scientific studies strongly suggest that these chemicals may play a causative role.

Plasticisers such as phthalates, which can block male sex hormones, and basic chemicals for plastics such as bisphenol A, which act like female hormones, can be found in the blood and urine of most people in Germany including children.

The European Union’s new legislative frameworks for chemicals and pesticides offer the possibility to reduce exposure to these chemicals drastically. Under REACH, the new chemicals legislation, hormonally active chemicals can be made subject to authorisation which would allow these chemicals to be used only for those purposes that do not create a risks for humans and the environment. The new plant protection regulation of the EU will prohibit the marketing of endocrine disrupting products that come into contact with humans and pose a risk for human health.