What is an Endocrine Disruptor?

The endocrine system regulates growth, development and maturation through a network of hormones and glands. It controls sexual development, which begins in utero, continues through infant puberty (when sex hormones help organize the neurological system) and restarts at adolescent puberty.

An endocrine disruptor is a synthetic chemical that interferes with the body’s normal functions by either mimicking hormones or blocking them.

Significant numbers of these chemicals penetrate the womb. Here they can interfere with how genes develop the tissues of an unborn baby, by extension affecting how teens and adults respond to hormonal signals as they mature. Growing evidence indicates that the following disorders, increasing in prevalence since the 1970s, could in part be a result of prenatal exposure to endocrine disruptors: abnormal male gonadal development, infertility, ADHD, autism, intellectual impairment, diabetes, asthma, thyroid disorders, and childhood and adult cancers.

Nearly 200 endocrine disruptors have been identified so far. They are plastics, resins and pesticides that we encounter every day. They are found in cosmetics, cleaning products, food containers, babies’ toys, appliances, dental sealants, carpets and computers.

While no chemical in use has been thoroughly tested for its endocrine disrupting effects, three are under regular examination: bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates and the fertilizer atrazine. The CDC found that 93% of Americans have measurable levels of BPA in their urine. They also report universal exposure to phthalates among all ages with the highest levels in children (it appears in umbilical cord blood). The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences reports that 60% of Americans are exposed to atrazine, primarily through drinking water.

Sources:

Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis, by Sandra Steingraber (2011)
The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
The Natural Resources Defense Council

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