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Health-Focused Groups Release "Dirty Dozen" List of Chemicals that Could Seriously Alter Your Hormones

Advocacy groups identify 12 of the worst and most prevalent chemicals capable of altering hormones, some of which are nearly impossible to avoid.


Two health-focused advocacy groups have released a report entitled "The Dirty Dozen," listing 12 of the worst and most prevalent chemicals that can alter hormones.  Young people are most at risk from these chemicals, the organizations say.


The chemicals, also called endocrine disruptors, can affect hormones in several ways, including increasing or decreasing the production of hormones, imitating hormones, and competing with essential nutrients, say the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Keep A Breast Foundation, which worked together to create the list.


The substances can be found in food, water, and a range of consumer products. While people can take steps to steer clear of many of the chemicals, sometimes there is no way to avoid them.


Some of the chemicals have been studied more extensively than others, but all of them have drawn concern from organizations and government agencies around the world.


Two chemicals on the list – Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates – have become notorious in recent years, and are shunned by many environmental activists. Used in certain plastics and resins, BPA can be found in goods such as food packaging and water bottles. Phthalates add flexibility to plastic, and are in an array merchandise, including vinyl floors and cosmetics.


Animal testing linked some types of phthalates to reproductive issues in males and females. And, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences stated it had “some concern” over BPA’s effect on the brain, behavior, and prostate glands of children and infants.


Several governments have restricted or banned these chemicals in infant and children's products. However, scientists continue to explore their impact on humans at typical levels of exposure.


Other offenders on the list are commonly recognized as toxic, but may not be well-known as hormone disruptors, according to EWG and the Keep A Breast Foundation.


For instance, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the consumer use of lead-containing paint in 1978, recognizing that this heavy metal is toxic to almost all organs in the body. However, lead also causes reproductive problems in both men and women.


Environmental pollutants also made the list.


Perchlorate– used in rocket fuel and fireworks – interferes with how the thyroid processes iodide.This affects children's development, and adult metabolism. The contaminant is increasingly found in water and soil.


High exposure to dioxins – which are formed in combustion, such as forest fires, or industrial processes – has impaired reproductive and developmental functions in humans. “More than 90% of human exposure is through food, mainly meat and dairy products, fish and shellfish,” according to the World Health Organization. Once absorbed in the fatty tissue, dioxins can stay in the body for years. However, research still needs to address long-term effects of lower-level exposure to dioxins.


Flame retardants have been linked with many health issues, including cancer and developmental problems, and take a long time to break down in the environment. Scientists are continuing to study how these chemicals affect humans, such as by mimicking hormones. Manufacturers use the retardants in products such as couch stuffing and cars. Additionally, consumers can still be exposed to flame retardants that are no longer used – due to concerns about their toxicity – through older furniture and household dust.


Check out the full list of the “Dirty Dozen” chemicals, as well as ways to avoid them.  The EWG says the most effective way to reduce the impact of these chemicals is through policy reform.

What You Can Do

If you are concerned about chemicals in food, water, and products, here are some ways to get involved:


More about outdated laws relating to the regulation of toxic chemicals: