Women’s chemical exposure may cost Europe more than $1 billion
NEW YORK – Across the European Union, women’s reproductive health issues from exposure to chemicals that disrupt their hormones may cost the economy more than 1.4 billion euros, or nearly US$1.6 billion, according to a new analysis.
So-called endocrine disrupting chemicals upset the body’s hormone balance. They can have adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Exposure to these chemicals – found in plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants and cosmetics – has been tied to a wide array of diseases, including autism, diabetes and obesity, said senior author Dr. Leonardo Trasande of the New York University School of Medicine in New York City.
Trasande and colleagues looked at the cost of exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in terms of two diseases of the uterus: endometriosis and uterine fibroids.
In endometriosis, which affects up to one in 10 women, abnormal growth of uterine tissue causes pain and disability.
Uterine fibroids, most common for women in their 40s and 50s, are benign tumors that can cause heavy and painful periods and pain during sex.
The researchers combined data from 12 European studies that measured diphenyldichloroethene (DDE) exposure in women with fibroids. They also looked at adult phthalate exposure and endometriosis.
To estimate women’s levels of these chemicals, they used findings from two earlier studies in Europe – one that analyzed DDE levels in women ages 15 to 54, and another that looked at urinary phthalate concentrations in women ages 20 to 24.
Their cost estimates for treating fibroids came from national databases in England, Germany and France. The data on costs of treating endometriosis came from Belgium.
They attributed 56,000 cases of fibroids to DDE exposure among European women in 2010, amounting to 163 million euros in economic and healthcare costs, or US$185 million.
For endometriosis, the additional 145,000 cases attributed to phthalates may have cost 1.25 billion euros or $1.42 billion US, the researchers reported in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
The strength of the evidence used to develop these estimates was low, however, and the toxicological evidence linking the chemicals to each outcome was only moderate.
Babies in the womb are particularly vulnerable to endocrine disrupting chemicals, although that was not part of this analysis, said Dr. Niels E. Skakkebaek, who studies these chemicals at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.
Policymakers should be doing more to remove the chemicals from circulation, he told Reuters Health by email.
“There’s still a substantial amount of uncertainly but ultimately this provides some context for active policymaking in the EU,” Trasande told Reuters Health by phone.
“The analysis was based in Europe but so far as we know for data from the CDC, exposure is similar if not greater in the US . . . and costs are likely to be on the same order of magnitude or even greater,” he said.
The results support ongoing efforts to update the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which addresses the production, importation, use, and disposal of specific chemicals in the US, but it severely outdated, Trasande said.
“Future research is clearly needed to understand the effects of these chemicals,” he said.
“It is extremely difficult to avoid exposure,” said Elizabeth E. Hatch, professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health, who was not part of the new analysis.
One can limit exposure by trying to eat mostly organic or locally grown food, by not eating canned foods, and by limiting use of cosmetics or lotions or looking for products that are less harmful, Hatch told Reuters Health by email.
The research team did not estimate the expense of replacing endocrine disrupting chemicals with safer alternatives, but other studies have suggested it would be on the order of billions of dollars, so the net cost of making changes would be small, Trasande said. -Reuters