Released yesterday in the medical journal Pediatrics, an alarming new study found that more than 1 in 10 girls have already begun developing breasts by the age of 8 — a shockingly young age to go through puberty. The findings surmised that this trend correlates with increasingly widespread exposure dangerous chemicals like BPA (a chemical found in plastics and some food can linings), certain preservatives, surfactants, pesticides, and plastic additives. Exposure to these and other common household chemicals may be disrupting girls’ hormones, and possibly even making them more susceptible to breast cancer and other health risks. With all of these detrimental effects, you would think that there would be regulations in place to control these substances. But the scary thing is — under our current policy, they are virtually unregulated.
According to the research, which was conducted by the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco, a host of different chemicals are to blame for unnatural changes to girls’ bodies. Among them, commonly used flame retardants can interfere with thyroid hormones, and phthalates, which are found in flooring, shower curtains, and even personal care products, affect the male hormone, testosterone.
According to Ted Schettler, M.D., M.P.H., Science Director for the Science and Environmental Health Network, young girls are exposed to dozens of these types of chemicals daily and some of them even mimic the natural hormone, estrogen. This explains the too-early onset of breast development.
The good news is that there are two bills pending right now – the Safe Chemicals Act in the Senate and the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act in the House – that would use the latest scientific advances to properly evaluate and regulate endocrine disrupting chemicals. Right now, with our current chemicals policy, the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), there is no requirement that chemicals be tested to assess their ability to disrupt hormones.
The new bills, if passed, would overhaul our chemicals policy, and make it stricter in more ways than one. Aside from regulating levels of disruptive toxins, it would monitor “hot spots” – areas located near sources of intense pollution like industrial plants, diesel refueling stations, and toxic waste dumps. These generally low-income neighborhoods typically have higher rates of cancer, asthma, learning disabilities and other diseases, meaning that it is imperative that they receive the attention they need in order for their youth to stay healthy.
Photo credit: lissalou66