An international panel of scientists has found that endocrine disrupting chemicals likely cost the European Union over 100 billion dollars annually — and American officials say this expense could be even higher in the U.S.
The scientific panel, convened by the Endocrine Society, adopted strategies created by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to evaluate how much causation of a particular disorder could be attributed to a particular chemical. For example, they found 70-100% probability that polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) and organophosphates contribute to IQ loss, based on previously published epidemiological studies. They then estimated the costs incurred to the European Union from health issues caused by exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals. The health effects investigated included neurobehavioral disorders, male reproductive health issues, and diabetes, and the total cost was found to be at least 100 billion dollars.
Linda Birnbaum, the top U.S. environmental health official, told National Geographic news that the panel’s findings on endocrine disruptors are a “wake-up call,” and added that, “If you applied these [health care] numbers to the U.S., they would be applicable, and in some cases higher.” Levels of exposure to endocrine disruptors are generally much higher among Americans than they are for citizens of the European Union.
The biggest contributors to cost were the effects of the chemicals on children’s brain development, potentially resulting in attention-deficit disorders and lost I.Q. points.
The scientists released their work in a series of studies published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (and summarized in this National Geographic news article). The studies were conducted at the behest of the European Commission for an impact assessment on the social cost of endocrine disrupting chemicals. The results will be used to inform future E.U. regulations as part of the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) program and other legislation.
Mallory Pickett is a former chemist and a science journalism student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism