Special Report: The New Boys' Health Scare
Male infertility appears to be on the rise, and studies suggest that more boys are being born with genital malformations. Could chemicals in our air, our homes, and even our kitchens be the cause?
The Latest News on Endocrine Disruptors
The official opinion of the Endocrine Society, which represents experts who specialize in the body's hormonal systems, is that "the evidence for adverse reproductive outcomes (infertility, cancers, malformations) from exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals is strong." And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now taking notice. "Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are showing up in low doses in our water supply, and it is troubling," says EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. Reminded that moms like Brandie and Karly want answers about EDCs now, she says, "We all wish the science came out quicker, but I would like readers to know that EDCs are one of my priorities." The EPA has commissioned several new studies, and Jackson is also pushing to update the Toxic Substances Control Act, which has remained virtually unchanged since 1976. She says the bar the EPA must clear in order to restrict a chemical's use is remarkably high: "We feel hamstrung. The law that governs chemical safety is antiquated; it has not kept up with the prevalence of chemicals."
Industry has a strong interest in keeping that bar high; retooling manufacturing processes to reduce or eliminate EDCs could cost billions. The proof the EPA has now isn't strong enough to drive new regulation; bottom-line results of studies on EDCs range from "Danger, Will Robinson!" to "No big deal." And manufacturers insist that the doses of these chemicals that we get are benign. "[Exposure to low doses] is something that has been discussed over and over by numerous risk reviewers and has been dismissed," says John Rost, Ph.D., chairman of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, which represents the food and beverage metal packaging industry. "I think consumers are getting a one-sided story." BPA-containing linings in cans reduce the risk of potentially deadly illness, he argues. "I know I can open a can of vegetables or soup and it has been properly treated and is free of food-borne illnesses," he says. He also points out, accurately, that the World Health Organization and the European Union's food-safety agency have deemed BPA safe for use in cans. In 2008, at the end of George W. Bush's presidency, the Food and Drug Administration declared BPA, the chemical that caused Karly to chuck her baby bottles, safe even for infants.
But the Canadian government banned BPA in baby bottles that same year. And in 2010, a report by Barack Obama's President's Cancer Panel acknowledged the links between BPA and hypospadias, undescended testicles, early puberty, and breast cancer, and said that EDCs found in items like baby toys may pose a danger.