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Impact of hormone disrupting chemicals on male health costs hundreds of millions of € in the EU (updated)

A new study, commissioned by Nordic governments and published today (press release here), finds that the damage to male reproductive health from exposure to hormone (or endocrine) disrupting chemicals is likely to cost many millions of euros every year in the EU.

The study only looks at the costs of a small number of disorders of male reproductive health – testicular cancer, infertility (due to low semen quality), hypospadias (malformation of the penis) and cryptorchidism (undescended testicles). The authors state that “the strength of the evidence between exposure to endocrine disruptors and effects on male reproductive health seems convincing”, but that it is hard to estimate what percentage of the disorders are caused by hormone disrupting chemicals. They therefore use expert judgement to decide on 3 different percentages – 2%, 20% and 40%, and then calculated the socio-economic costs, for the Nordic countries and the EU as a whole, of these disorders.

The authors calculate socioeconomic costs for the whole EU (28 countries), which are as follows (all figures are discounted; an economic approach to dealing with future costs; without discounting these costs would be more than twice as high):

  • If 20% of the disorders are due to hormone disrupters, then the costs due to yearly exposure to endocrine disruptors would be €592 million
  • If 2% of the disorders are due to hormone disrupters, then the costs due to yearly exposure to endocrine disruptors would be €59
  • If 40% of the disorders are due to hormone disrupters, then the costs due to yearly exposure to endocrine disruptors would be €1,184 million

The authors conclude that:

“minimizing exposure to endocrine disruptors will not only remove distress and pain for the persons (and the wildlife) affected, it will also save the society from considerable economic costs”

As many other hormone-related illnesses are not included, the authors point out that:

“the costs estimated in this report therefore represent only a fraction of the total costs of exposure to endocrine disruptors”.

Dr Michael Warhurst, Executive Director of CHEM Trust, said:

“This study shows the scale of the impacts that hormone disrupting chemicals are having. It’s time for Europe to resist the lobbying of those companies that make money from these chemicals and instead act to phase them out”

He added:

“Companies should focus on developing and producing products that don’t contain hormone disrupters and other problem chemicals. This will give them a competitive advantage as controls on these chemicals become stricter around the world – and as consumers become more aware of this issue.”

The timing of the study is particularly significant, given that the European Commission is currently consulting on impacts on industry of criteria to identify endocrine disrupters. The Commission’s approach to endocrine disruption has also been accused of being unduly influenced by industry lobbying. Sweden is currently taking legal proceedings against the Commission for failing to comply with legal deadlines to implement criteria to identify endocrine disrupters.  In addition, eight European countries (Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Norway) are urging the new European Commission to improve regulation of endocrine disrupting substances.

This study on the costs to male reproductive health, which was commissioned by the Nordic council, made up of governments of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Åland, makes the following recommendations to reduce our exposure to hormone disrupters:

1) Development of strict scientifically based criteria for the identification of endocrine disruptors and implementation of these in relevant EU legislation

2) Enhancement of the standard information requirements in relevant EU legislation to also comprise information on endocrine disruptive properties

3) Screening of substances for suspected endocrine disrupting properties based on available data

4) Specific testing of suspected endocrine disruptors in order to assess their endocrine disrupting potential

5) Regulation aimed at minimizing exposure to identified endocrine disruptors.

Update, 18th Nov 2014

Update, 2nd Dec 2014

The Guardian has now covered this report, including a quote from CHEM Trust & from Professor Kortenkamp:

However, Professor Andreas Kortenkamp, a human toxicologist at Brunel University in the UK, said the epidemiological work needed to prove causation is very difficult. For example, he said, analysing links to birth defects would having taken tissue samples from mothers before they gave birth. 

“Hard evidence for effects in humans is difficult to demonstrate, though there are some exceptions,” he said. “But there is very good, strong evidence from animal and cell line test systems. The chemical industry only likes to emphasis the first part of that.” He said precaution was the only safe approach and said the Nordic report was good work.

“Industry lobbying has put regulation back by 3-5 years, which was entirely the intention,” said Kortenkamp, who led a 2012 review of EDCs for the EU which found new regulations were needed. “Every year of no regulation means millions of euros to the industry. That is what it is all about.”