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Endocrine disrupting chemical hazards at or in buildings:
Here we list common building materials and products that, at least in some versions, may contain levels of these chemicals. Here we list possible building sources of these hazards and we also call attention to the greater risk of some more mundane but also more immediate life/safety hazards found at buildings.
We describe prudent avoidance as it could pertain to avoiding exposure to possible or likely sources of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in or around buildings.
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What is the Possible Endocrine Disruptive Chemical (EDC) Hazard & How Does it Occur in Buildings?
Significant and discussed in Our Stolen Future, Theo Colborn et al., is the observation that at certain critical points in the development of animals, presumably including humans, exposure to extremely low levels of endocrine disrupter chemicals (EDC's) (such as BPA - Bisphenol-A or BPA, Diethylstilbestrol - DES, dioxins, PCBs, and chemicals used in the production of certain cleansers, dyes, flame retardants, plastics, pesticides, white papers ) perhaps just a few molecules, or in the parts per trillion, is sufficient to cause disruption of the animal's development, including proper sex differentiation, or the lack of it that produced androgynous ducks unable to reproduce under such conditions.
A endocrine disrupter is a synthetic chemical compound that mimics natural hormones when it is taken into the body of a human or other animal. It "disrupts" the endocrine system by turning on or off normal chemical signals that in turn can affect normal hormone levels, bodily functions, and significantly, the development of embryos. Further, unlike naturally occurring hormones ingested, for example from plants (phytoestrogens), synthetically-generated hormones accumulate in the body and can have a half-life of decades or longer.
One significance of this finding includes the observation that an important medical effect that occurs with exposure to chemicals in extremely low concentrations means that experiments to test for correlations between chemical exposure and subsequent serious medical problems will be deeply flawed if, for example, the experimental design does not include testing for the presence of the chemical at extremely low levels. A related concern is that even if harmful effects from exposure to extremely low concentrations of an endocrine disrupter are occurring, teasing out and proving that relationship can be also extremely difficult.
Concern for the effects on humans of trace levels of certain chemicals - exposure levels considerably below most exposure standards - is not new.
As public awareness of the possible hazards of exposure to endocrine disrupters has increased,and in the interest of permitting reasonable efforts by building owners and occupants in seeking prudent avoidance of these substances, here we list common building materials and products that, at least in some versions, may contain levels of these chemicals.
Rudel & Petrovich writing in Atmospheric Environment pointed out that significant un-answered questions remain about endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC) hazards:
Common Building Components & Products that May* be a Source of Endocrine Disrupters (EDCs) or similar hazards
In the article we just quoted above, and noting that PCBs (cited next) are not the only source of EDCs, Rudel & Petrovich listed these common potential sources of endocrine disrupters that may be found on or in buildings:
Caulks & Sealants
Foam padding or cushions, esp. containing a flame retardant chemical
Fuel oil & No. 2 Home Heating Oil
Furniture & furnishings (textiles, especially flame retardant-treated
Paints & Coatings
Pesticides & Herbicides: Big Business Combats Scientists & Critics: Frogs and atrazine
Particularly on older homes that may have been treated with pesticides that are no longer used, and particularly if pesticides were applied improperly (spraying chlordane on building walls, for example) may have left a long-lived chemical hazard. See PESTICIDE EXPOSURE HAZARDS.
That the history of concern for the effects of endocrine disrupters and hormone mimicking chemicals on humans and other animals continues from Rachel Carlson's Silent Spring (1962) through Colborn et als.' Our Stolen Future als. (1996) continues to the present is illustrated by Law's description of Dr. Tyrone Hayes' research on the use of the herbicide atrazine (used on half of the corn produced in the U.S.).
As the Monsanto corporation is reported to have attacked and parodied Carlson in the 1960's, so Hayes in The New Yorker as well as Clare (2013) in Environmental Health News report extensive personal attacks on their critics by Syngenta, a Basel-based corporation selling more than $14 billion dollars' worth of seeds and pesticides each year.
Hayes studies the metamorphosis of tadpoles into frogs - animals whose oxygen-absorbent skin may make them particularly sensitive to chemicals in the environment. The research results were summed-up by Clare (2013) as:
Here are Syngenta's comments on Hayes' atrazine research as reported in The New Yorker in 2014:
References on Atrazine, Frogs, Hayes & Endocrine Disruptive Effects of Atrazine
Plastic products used in or found in buildings
Plastic Water Tanks
PET - Polyethylene terephthalate (PETE, PETP, PET-P) is a thermoplastic polymer polyester plastic resin. plastic water tanks may be a health risk to consumers: Commentary published in Environmental Health Perspectives in April 2010 suggested that PET might yield endocrine disrupters under conditions of common use and recommended research on this topic. Proposed mechanisms include leaching of phthalates as well as leaching of antimony. Other authors have published evidence indicating that it is quite unlikely that PET yields endocrine disrupters - Web search 6/27/2010 Wikipedia. PET
To identify what kind of plastic was used to make your water or other storage tank or even your plastic water bottle or food container use the simple guide to plastic recycling codes and other plastic tank type identification suggestions at PLASTIC CONTAINERS, TANKS, TYPES and look for the recycling indicator or label on your plastic container.
Details about PET PETE PETP PET-P possible hazards: see WELL PUMP & WATER TANK SAFETY
* Not all products in these categories are shown or even believed to contain hormone mimicking chemicals or endocrine disrupters
OPINION: In our view, prudent avoidance as used here means that although research on the actual hazard of endocrine disrupters is ongoing and although there may be few endocrine disrupter exposure standards, enough data has been presented to support reasonable, "non-heroic" efforts at avoiding exposure to these substances. In other words, while abandoning a home or tearing off all of its vinyl siding (VINYL CHLORIDE HEALTH INFO) to replace with another material are almost certainly inappropriate and un-justified steps, other more cost-reasonable steps to avoid these materials would be appropriate.
Prudent avoidance means that we avoid un-justified costs or heroic actions that are driven more by fear than by sound data. But it can be difficult to sort out which hazards we read about are based on sound science and which are less rationally derived, or perhaps even exaggerated by some who provide services that benefit from a frightened consumer. At ENVIRO-SCARE - PUBLIC FEAR CYCLES we explain that regardless of the actual hazard level involved, public fear goes through cycles of awareness, concern, and then diminished concern as the hazard becomes familiar.
Examples of prudent avoidance might be seen in
Watch out: generally we are more anxious about potential hazards that we cannot see or for which we cannot control our exposure than we are about more mundane hazards such as automobile crashes, failure to buckle a seatbelt, or unsafe steps and rails and stair-fall injuries. But in fact far more people are seriously injured or killed each day by those more mundane dangers.
Don't allow fear of EDCs (endocrine disrupting chemicals) exposure at your home or other building cause a failure to attend to more immediate and lethal hazards such as unsafe heating equipment or dangerous stairs and railings. At SAFETY HAZARDS GUIDE we provide an extensive list of common building safety & health hazards found in or at buildings such as
At "More Reading" below and at the "More Reading" links at the bottom of this article at the top of this article we list InspectApedia articles that list building materials & products that may contain endocrine disrupter chemicals.
At REFERENCES found at the end of this article we include citations of authoritative sources discussing the hazards of hormone mimicking chemicals, endocrine disrupters, industry sources of these substances, and the development of pertinent exposure standards.
Continue reading at Bisphenol-A, BPA or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
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