Greenpeace Report Warns Commonly Found Chemicals May Be Harming Reproductive Health
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands Greenpeace pushed Tuesday for EU legislation for tougher regulation of the chemicals industry, warning that not enough has been done to test the effect of chemicals found in consumer products -- from cosmetics to computers -- on human reproductive health.
The environmental group urged the European Parliament to require companies to replace toxic chemicals where alternatives exist, and to periodically review authorization of other chemicals that could be dangerous.
The recommendations came as Greenpeace published a report citing scientific research linking declining fertility rates and reproductive disorders in Europe in the last 50 years to the development of tens of thousands of new chemicals used in a vast range household products.
David Santillo, a Greenpeace biologist who co-authored the report, said possible links between sexual problems, like steadily falling sperm counts, and exposure to certain chemicals have been studied since World War II.
The report, entitled "Fragile: Our Reproductive Health and Chemical Exposure," pulls together "various pieces of evidence from various scientific publications that are in no way linked to Greenpeace," Santillo said.
The report came as the European Parliament was discussing legislation on tightening the regulation of chemicals for the 25-country European Union.
Greenpeace said the draft law has been steadily watered down in the protection it would offer. A decision on the law, known by the acronym REACH for Registration, Evaluation, Authorization of Chemicals, is due by the end of the year.
"Right now the burden is on the governments to do the research. This law would help shift the burden to industry," said Helen Perivier, who heads the Greenpeace campaign against toxic materials.
"Most people assume that products have already been screened for health and safety. That's just not true," she said.
The chemical link to reproductive problems cannot be 100 percent proved, Santillo said, but the evidence of the link was growing stronger.
The report acknowledged several problems in the research, including the fact that no human control group is available since everyone is exposed to suspect chemicals, even in the womb. Lifestyle, smoking, diet and shifting demographics also could be factors, it said.
Laboratory tests on animals reinforce suspicions of the harmful effects on humans, but they study isolated chemicals rather than the cocktail that is ever present in normal Western life. Also, the effect of exposure at an early age may not become apparent for years, or even decades.
Chemicals that are believed to affect hormones or mimic female hormones are found in food wrappings, plastic goods and perfumes. Insulation used in computers, televisions and mobile phones to safeguard against fire can leak into household dust, and has caused birth defects in rats in laboratory experiments.
Plastic prints sewn onto children's pajamas have been found to contain alkylphnols, which lab tests indicate may interfere with sperm production, and have been taken off the shelves of some department stores, said Perivier, speaking from Brussels.
One 1992 study cited in the report showed that sperm count fell 50 percent between 1940 and 1990, while the incidence of testicular cancer progressively rose. Infertility today affects 15-20 percent of couples, compared with 7-8 percent in the early 1960s, the report said.
"On average, a typical Western man produces half the sperm his father or grandfather did," it said.
The exposure to toxic chemicals begins before birth and can be especially damaging in the years of infancy and childhood when the body is in its most complex and sensitive stage of development, said the report.
"Some 70,000 to 100,000 chemicals are in use today and we lack the basic information on most of those chemicals," said Perivier. "Only 150 chemicals have been looked at for risk assessment."
Source: Associated Press