Shocking WHO Report on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Calls for Building Material Ingredient Disclosure


Jim Vallette - February 21, 2013

A brand new report by global authorities fingers building materials as major sources of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). The exhaustive World Health Organization/United Nations Environment Programme study notes that few of these chemicals have been studied adequately.

Many sources of EDCs are not known because of a lack of chemical constituent declarations in products, materials and goods. We need to know where the exposures are coming from,” concludes the report, titled State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals – 2012: An assessment of the state of the science of endocrine disruptors prepared by a group of experts for the United Nations Environment Programme and World Health Organization.

The 289-page report just came out.  It will take some time to process its findings and details, but here are some more excerpts that caught my immediate attention:

“New sources of exposure to EDCs, in addition to food, have been identified and include indoor environments and electronics recycling and dumpsites (of particular concern in developing countries and countries with economies in transition). The sources and routes of exposure to EDCs need to be further investigated.”

“Identifying chemicals with endocrine disrupting potential among all of the chemicals used and released worldwide is a major challenge, and it is likely that we are currently assessing only the ‘tip of the iceberg.’"

“(O)ver the past decade it has become clear that humans, in particular small children, are… exposed to EDCs via dust and particles in indoor environments like homes, schools, childcare centres, and offices…. A large number of chemicals are used as additives in indoor materials, food packaging, and other consumer products, and these compounds can leak from the packaging, materials and goods into food or onto dust that is ingested primarily by toddlers and infants.”

The authors trace these exposures to chemicals widely used in building materials.  One of the profiled chemicals is the phthalate, DEHP, used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) flexible.  Researchers, they write, found “exposure to PVC flooring and/or PVC wall covering material was correlated with airway symptoms in children… (and) an association between the concentration of DEHP in indoor dust and ashthma and wheezing in children.”

The study highlights other chemicals that we have profiled in Pharos, both in our articles and in our product evaluations. It names chemicals like: bisphenol A, a key ingredient of polycarbonate plastics and UV-cured flooring finishes; triclosan, the antimicrobial agent; and D4, the cyclosiloxane that I discussed earlier this month in a Signal article about silicone adhesives.

The WHO/UNEP report appears to be sending a Chelyabinsk-sized shockwave through the world of chemicals policy. Let us hope, and work to ensure, that this reverberates into the realm of building materials specification, propels disclosure of product contents, and catalyzes action to eliminate EDC exposures from our homes and workplaces.

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Jim Vallette is the Research Director for the Healthy Building Network.