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Endocrine-disrupting Chemicals

Many of the chemicals tested for in the Mind, Disrupted project are considered to be endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), such as BPA, PBDEs, and DDT (an organochlorine pesticide). The human endocrine (hormone) system is a key part of the development and functioning of the body, starting with gestation and continuing throughout a person’s life.88

In 2009, the Endocrine Society, an international body of 14,000 members dedicated to research on hormones and the clinical practice of endocrinology, released a key scientific statement concerning the health threats of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The statement says, in part: “EDCs can have neurobiological and neurotoxic effects…. Numerous neurotransmitter systems such as dopamine, nor epinephrine, serotonin, glutamate, and others are sensitive to endocrine disruption. This point is important because it explains neurological effects of EDCs on cognition, learning, memory, and other non-reproductive behaviors.”89 A growing number of synthetic (manmade) chemicals, including chemicals in widespread use such as BPA, phthalates, and many pesticides, have been found to interfere with the endocrine system.90

Exposure to even very small doses of “endocrine disruptors” can wreak subtle or serious havoc with the human endocrine system, which is remarkably sensitive. According to The Endocrine Disruptor Exchange, a non-profit website founded by Dr. Theo Colborn that compiles research on endocrine disruptors, “The endocrine system is so fine tuned that it depends upon changes in hormones in concentrations as little as a tenth of a trillion of a gram to control the womb environment. That’s as inconspicuous as one second in 3,169 centuries.”91 The health effects of disruption of the endocrine system may not manifest until later in life. Those effects can include impaired brain development (through interference with thyroid hormone levels), diminished ability to control behavior, an increased risk of reproductive health problems, and other issues.

Jeff Sell, participant and father of two boys with autism states: “I would like to think I’ve got a fairly decent understanding of all these chemicals, but it can make your head spin. I’ve said for years that if you ask 10 different physicians about the causes of autism, you’ll get 10 different answers; as a parent of two boys with autism it’s very frustrating because I can’t help but wonder, stepping back from my own personal history, about what I’ve been exposed to. It’s amazing to me how much body burden I have and what that means for my children.”

Industrial chemicals are not routinely tested for hormonal or very-low-dose effects. Despite this, the list of industrial chemicals known or suspected to disrupt the endocrine system continues to grow.

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