Photo illustrating hormone disrupting chemcials
Hormone-disrupting chemicals contribute to health conditions including lowered IQ, male infertility, diabetes, obesity

Staggering health costs from hormone-disrupting chemicals in the EU

6 March, 2015

Natural Health News — A new economic analysis found exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals likely costs the European Union €157 billion ($209 / £137 billion) a year in actual health care expenses and lost earning potential.

Global experts in this field, announcing the findings, concluded that infertility and male reproductive dysfunctions, birth defects, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neurobehavioral and learning disorders were among the conditions that can be attributed in part to exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs).

The €157 billion estimate is conservative, and represents 1.23% of Europe’s gross domestic product (GDP). These costs may actually be as high as €270 billion ($359 / £236 billion), or 2% of GDP.

A staggering cost

“The analysis demonstrates just how staggering the cost of widespread endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure is to society,” said Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Environmental Medicine & Population Health at NYU Langone Medical Center, who led a team of eighteen researchers across eight countries in this landmark initiative. “This research crystalises more than three decades of lab and population-based studies of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the EU.”

EDCs mimic, block or interfere with the body’s hormones. EDCs include bisphenol A (BPA) found in water bottles and can linings, certain phthalates found in plastic products and cosmetics, flame retardants and pesticides such as chlorpyrifos.

Nearly 100% of people have detectable amounts of EDCs in their bodies, according to the Introductory Guide to EDCs published by the Endocrine Society and IPEN.

Based on the body of established literature,  a panel of global EDC experts evaluated the likelihood that EDCs contributed to various medical conditions and dysfunctions but limited the analysis to the disorders with the strongest scientific evidence.

The analysis included direct costs of hospital stays, physician services, nursing home care and other medical costs. The researchers also calculated estimates of indirect costs such as lost worker productivity, early death and disability.

“Although this analysis was limited to the European Union, the disease and cost burden of exposure is likely to be on the same order of magnitude in the United States and elsewhere in the world,” Trasande said.

Losing our minds, gaining weight

In the EU, researchers found the biggest cost driver was loss of IQ and intellectual disabilities caused by prenatal exposure to pesticides containing organophosphates. The study estimated the harm done to unborn children costs society between €46.8 billion ($51 / £33 billion) and €195 billion ($214 / £140 billion) a year. About 13 million lost IQ points and 59,300 additional cases of intellectual disability per year can be attributed to organophosphate exposure.

Adult obesity linked to phthalate exposure generated the second-highest total, with estimated costs of €15.6 billion a year.

“Our findings show that limiting exposure to the most common and hazardous endocrine-disrupting chemicals is likely to yield significant economic benefits,” said one of the study’s authors, Philippe Grandjean, MD, PhD, Professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Southern Denmark and Adjunct Professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“This approach has the potential to inform decision-making in the environmental health arena. We are hoping to bring the latest endocrine science to the attention of policymakers as they weigh how to regulate these toxic chemicals.”

The findings are published in a series of studies published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

  • The study Estimating Burden and Disease Costs of Exposure to Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals in the European Union can be found here
  • The study Obesity, Diabetes, and Associated Costs of Exposure to Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals in the European Union can be found here
  • The study Neurobehavioral Deficits, Diseases and Associated Costs of Exposure to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in the European Union can be found here
  • The study Male Reproductive Disorders, Diseases, and Costs of Exposure to Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals in the European Union can be found here