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Endocrine Disruptors

What are they?

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the production or activity of human hormones. They include dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and plasticizers such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates.

Endocrine disruptors may be found in some plastic bottles, metal food can linings, cosmetics, detergents, medicines, flame retardants, food, toys, and pesticides.

Some endocrine disruptors have been banned in the United States because of their human or wildlife health effects. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advised physicians to stop prescribing DES (diethylstilbestrol) in 1971.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of DDT in 1972.

U.S. production of PCBs stopped in 1977; exports and imports of PCBs stopped in 1979.

See also: Agriculture Air Pollution Brownfield Factories Food and Cooking Homes Trash Drinking Water Reproductive Health Learning and Developmental Disabilities

Where are Endocrine Disruptors found?

  • Consumer products – some plastic bottles, metal food can linings, cosmetics, detergents, medicines, flame retardants, food, toys, and pesticides
  • Air – from pesticide or industrial use
  • Water – contaminated groundwater or drinking water

How can I be exposed to Endocrine Disruptors?

Endocrine Disruptors commonly enter(s) the body through:

Ingestion (swallowing)
  • Swallowing food, beverages, or medicines that contain endocrine disruptors
Inhalation (breathing)
  • Breathing air contaminated by endocrine disruptors
Skin contact
  • Touching products made with endocrine disruptors

What happens when I am exposed to Endocrine Disruptors?

Exposure to endocrine disruptors even at low levels can affect human health.

Exposure to endocrine disruptors can cause:

  • Cancer or an increased risk of cancer
  • Changes in the development and behavior of infants and children
  • Changes in a developing fetus
  • Interference with the body’s natural hormones
  • Changes in reproductive organs and function
  • Infertility and endometriosis
  • Disturbances in the immune and nervous system functions
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Asthma

Who is at risk for exposure to Endocrine Disruptors?

  • Consumers
    • Consumer products, food, beverages, and medicines can contain endocrine disruptors.
  • Women of child-bearing age
    • Endocrine disruptors can cause infertility, endometriosis, and changes in a developing fetus.
  • Infants and children
    • Endocrine disruptors can cause the greatest risk during critical periods of development.

Reduce your risk

If you think your health has been affected by exposure to endocrine disruptors, contact your health care professional. 

Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling chemicals. For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

  • Do you use plastic bottles or cups?
  • Do you store food in plastic containers?
  • Do you use canned goods?
  • Do you use consumer products with fragrances?
  • Do you use well water?
  • Read product labels.
  • Don’t drink from plastic bottles containing BPA. Use glass when possible.
  • Don’t overuse non-stick pans, particularly those with broken surfaces. Cook in stainless steel or cast iron.
  • Choose fresh, frozen, or dried foods that are not packed in cans lined with BPA.
  • Don’t eat fish that may be contaminated. Eat wild fish when possible.
  • Avoid antibacterial soaps and consumer products (lotions, sunscreens, soap cosmetics) with the word “fragrance” on the label.
  • Wash your hands before eating.
  • Dust, vacuum, and ventilate your home often.
  • Buy cleaning products that disclose their ingredients and look for the Safer Choice label.
  • Avoid certain pesticides and weed killers or use non-toxic alternatives.
  • Filter your tap water.
  • Routinely check well water for endocrine disruptors.
  • If your well water has high levels of endocrine disruptors, contact your local or state health agency or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for information on how to correct the problem.
  • Avoid plastic bottles, cups, and food containers that may contain endocrine disruptors.
  • Avoid or limit cosmetic use for children.
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