8 Ways to Reduce Your Exposure to Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals
By Caroline Cox
What keeps you up at night? Sick kids, restless pets, the latest tragedy on the evening news, politics, wars, earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, money troubles, job stress, and family health and wellbeing? There is no shortage of concerns that make us all toss and turn.
If you can even pronounce "endocrine disruption," you're doing well. What is it? Why should we care? And why is it keeping chemical bigshots up at night?
The endocrine system is the system of glands, hormones and hormone targets that is responsible for almost everything our bodies do. Hormones are chemical messengers that control blood sugar, infant and child development, sexual function, growth, energy production and much more. Without them, we would not be ourselves. Hormones are particularly impressive because tiny amounts of them, so small they're difficult even to comprehend, have profound effects on our health and well-being.
In the last 30 years, we've learned that synthetic chemicals, widely used in industry and agriculture, can disrupt the way that this finely tuned system works. We call these chemicals—including compounds made from lead, mercury and arsenic, DDT, BPA and phthalates—endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).
These chemicals are known to cause obesity, diabetes, heart disease, reduced fertility, premature birth, reduced sperm quality and cancer. Exposures before birth, during childhood and during the teenage years are especially important because of the rapid growth and development that occurs during those periods. Now new research indicates that some EDCs cause problems that are passed along for generations.
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A study released last month by Healthy Babies Bright Futures highlights the pervasiveness of one of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals, arsenic. The study found that levels of arsenic in infant rice cereal are six times higher than in infant cereals made from other ingredients.
Everyone who has spent time reading mysteries knows that arsenic can kill. But how many of us know that it also causes cancer, damages developing brains in babies and children—reducing IQ test scores—and disrupts important hormones in our bodies, making diabetes more likely?
According to recent research by Abt Associates, children's exposures to arsenic in infant rice cereal and other rice-based foods accounts for an estimated loss of up to 9.2 million IQ points among U.S. children ages 0-6. This damage costs the country an estimated $12-18 billion annually in lost wages. To date, the FDA has not taken action, and with this administration, it will let this travesty continue.
But let's go back to that Shell executive. What exactly is he worried about during his sleepless nights? We can only guess. But one thing that probably runs through his mind is that almost none of us escapes exposure to EDCs. BPA is so ubiquitous that government studies found it in over 90 percent of the people studied. That represents a potentially huge liability for the companies that make BPA.
How did this happen? This has everything to do with the way that we regulate chemicals. For the last century or so, the foundation of chemical regulation has been that small exposures are not a problem—just a little won't hurt you or "the dose makes the poison." Endocrine disruption turns that concept on its head, because hormones are active in such small amounts. Counter-intuitively, some endocrine disruptors are more potent in tiny amounts than in larger amounts. In 2012, a lead author of a major study on EDCs stated that "fundamental changes in chemical testing and safety determination are needed to protect human health."
Weak regulations also mean we really have no idea how many chemicals are endocrine disruptors. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says there are about 85,000 chemicals used by industry, and most of them have never been tested to find out whether they can disrupt our hormones or not. There is decent evidence that over 1,400 hormone-disrupting chemicals are endocrine disruptors.
A chemical executive's sleepless nights should not be our sleepless nights. Where do we go from here?
About 25 years ago, Congress passed a law stating that the EPA should begin testing for endocrine disruption in a subset of those 85,000 chemicals. It hasn't happened, and in today's political climate it's not likely to happen. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to reduce your exposure to EDCs:
- Eat organic food when it's available and affordable.
- If you're feeding a baby cereal, stay away from rice. Buy oat, wheat or multigrain cereal instead.
- Avoid household bug sprays.
- Use cosmetics, shampoos and soaps with simple, pronounceable ingredients.
- Use old-fashioned cleaners like vinegar and baking soda, or products with the Safer Choice logo.
- Keep rooms well aired and vacuum, clean and dust regularly to remove chemicals that can be found indoors.
- Minimize unnecessary use of plastics.
- Add your name to the growing movement to stop EDCs.
It's time companies like Monsanto, Dow-DuPont and ExxonMobil take responsibility for gambling with your family's health and the health of future generations and stop making these silent killer chemicals. We deserve nothing less.
Caroline Cox is the senior scientist at the Center for Environmental Health.
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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