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Infertility & Reproduction Health Center

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Household Chemicals Linked to Early Puberty, Infertility

Group Pushes for New Laws, More Study on Common Chemicals
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 18, 2010 -- A growing list of common household chemicals may be linked to reproductive health problems, including early puberty and infertility.

The list includes phthalates, the plastics chemical bisphenol A (BPA), perfluorinated compounds found in nonstick cookware, flame retardants, the antibacterial agent triclosan, and mercury, according to experts speaking at a news conference sponsored by Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition seeking to overhaul the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

The group is pushing for the passage of the “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010” in the Senate and the "Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010" in the House. Among other things, these bills call on the companies who make chemicals to test them for safety, instead of the Environmental Protection Agency having to prove they are unsafe.

Evidence Mounts

Linda C. Giudice, MD, PhD, the chair of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, says that there is "increasing evidence that these contaminants may be playing a role in reproductive disorders."

Some, such as the controversial BPA, are known endocrine disruptors, which means they look or act like hormones in the body.

"We have begun to question whether exposures are affecting reproductive health, and the data are quite confirmatory," she says. "We don't really have a good handle on why certain chemicals may put African-American girls, for example, at risk for an earlier age of onset for puberty."

It's complex, Giudice says. "It is partly genetic and partly nutritional and there may also be other influences as well."

There is a lack of data on many of the chemicals used today, she says. "The absence of data does not mean they are safe." One of the group's issues with the TSCA is that it "grandfathered" in 62,000 chemicals without testing.

While studies linking chemicals to human health problems have been mixed, it is possible they have not captured the vulnerable period of exposure.

"They may have looked in the wrong place," she says. Going forward, a study by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development at the National Institutes of Health may provide some clarity. This study will follow chemical exposures among women from conception and pregnancy and track their children through puberty.

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