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Can We Avoid the Endocrine Disruptors Around Us?

FLAME RETARDANTS Can affect neurodevelopment and hormone levels, and may increase risk of cancer Nail polish, foam cushioning in furniture, rigid foam insulation
PARABENS Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen Cosmetics, personal care products like shampoos, hair gels, lotions
BISPHENOLS Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen Protective lining for canned goods, hard plastic water bottles, thermal paper register receipts
ANTIMICROBIALS Can interfere with thyroid and other hormones Colgate Total toothpaste, soap, deodorant
BENZOPHENONES Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen Sunscreen, lotions, lip balm
1,4-DICHLOROBENZENE Can affect thyroid hormones and may increase risk of cancer Mothballs, toilet deodorizers
PHTHALATES Can disrupt male reproductive development and fertility Vinyl shower curtains, fast food, nail polish, perfume/cologne
FRAGRANCE CHEMICALS Can exacerbate asthma symptoms and disrupt natural hormones Perfume/cologne, cleaning products, dryer sheets, air fresheners
PER- AND POLYFLUOROALKYL SUBSTANCES (PFAS) Can affect hormones, immune response in children, and may increase risk of cancer Scotchgard and other stain-resistant treatments, fast-food wrappers

Surprised? So was I when I had my urine tested for these chemicals. (A urine or blood test is needed to confirm whether you have been exposed.Let me stress that mine should have been clean. Almost a decade ago, I was shaken by my reporting on a class of toxic chemicals called endocrine disruptors. They are linked to cancer and obesity and also seemed to feminize males, so that male alligators developed stunted genitalia and male smallmouth bass produced eggs.

In humans, endocrine disruptors were linked to two-headed sperm and declining sperm counts. They also were blamed for an increase in undescended testicles and in a birth defect called hypospadias, in which the urethra exits the side or base of the penis rather than the tip.   

So I’ve tried for years now to limit my exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Following the advice of the President’s Cancer Panel, I eat organic to reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors in pesticides. I try to store leftover meals in glass containers, not plastic. I avoid handling A.T.M. and gas station receipts. I try to avoid flame-retardant furniture

Silent Spring Institute near Boston, which studies chemical safety, offers a “Detox Me Action Kit” to help consumers determine what harmful substances are in their bodies. Following instructions, I froze two urine samples (warning my wife and kids that day to be careful what food they grabbed from the freezer) and Fed-Exed them off for analysis. By the way, the testing is for women, too. Men may wince as they read about miniaturized alligator penises, but endocrine disruptors have also been linked to breast cancer and gynecological cancers. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warns women that endocrine disruptors can also cause miscarriages, fetal defects and much more.

Finally, I heard back from Silent Spring Institute. I figured this was a report card I had aced. I avoid all that harmful stuff. In my columns, I had advised readers how to avoid it. Sure enough, I had a low level of BPA, best known because plastic bottles now often boast “BPA Free.”

But even a diligent student like me failed the test. Badly. I had high levels of a BPA substitute called BPF. Ruthann Rudel, a toxicologist who is the head of research at Silent Spring, explained that companies were switching to BPF even though it may actually be yet more harmful (it takes longer for the body to break it down).  .... My urine had an average level of an endocrine disruptor called triclosan, possibly from soap or toothpaste. Like most people, I also had chlorinated phenols (perhaps from mothballs in my closet). I had a high level of a flame retardant called triphenyl phosphate, possibly from a floor finish, which may be “neurotoxic.” Hmm. 
Will these endocrine disruptors give me cancer? Make me obese? Make my genitals fall off? Nobody really knows. .... The steps I took did help, and I recommend that others consult consumer guides at to reduce their exposures to toxic chemicals. Likewise, if I had downloaded the Detox Me smartphone app, I would have known to get rid of those mothballs, along with air fresheners and scented candles. (Science lesson: A less fragrant house means cleaner pee.) Yet my takeaway is also that chemical industry lobbyists have rigged the system so that we consumers just can’t protect ourselves adequately.

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