6 September 2023, Quezon City, Metro Manila. As part of its continuing advocacy towards a zero waste and toxics-free society, the environmental watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition organized a seminar last September 5 focusing on ubiquitous synthetic chemicals that mimic, block or alter natural hormones and cause adverse health effects, especially in developing fetuses and children.
With inputs from invited experts from the Philippines and South Korea, the mostly women participants learned that EDCs are widely used in consumer and industrial materials and products, that exposures to EDCs are contributing to neurological disorders, reproductive abnormalities, weakened immune system, obesity, and cancer, among other health issues, across the world.
In his presentation, Dr. Geminn Louis Apostol, an environmental health specialist at the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health (ASMPH) likened EDCs to a thief who has a duplicate key to one’s home, which allow these substances to imitate or block the body’s natural hormones and thereby interfere with normal hormone functions.
“EDCs found in many plastic and consumer products such as DEHP and other phthalates and BPA, pose a profound and well-documented threat to human health. Scientific evidence has unequivocally linked exposure to these chemicals with a range of adverse health effects, including hormone disruption, reproductive disorders, neurodevelopmental issues, and increased risk of chronic diseases,” said Apostol.
“It is imperative that we prioritize comprehensive regulatory measures, enhance public awareness, and invest in safer alternatives to protect vulnerable populations, especially children, women, and disadvantaged communities, ” he added. “Our collective action is not just an ethical imperative; it is an urgent necessity for the well-being and future of society,” he further said.
For his part, Dr. Won Kim, Director of Research, from Wonjin Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health (WIOEH), pointed out that citizens are always exposed to various EDCs as exposure sources are ubiquitous and that early exposure and exposure even in low doses matter. He likewise emphasized that biomonitoring (the measurement of the levels of toxic chemicals in human body fluids and tissues) is needed and this can provide clues for exposures to environmental pollutants.
“While personal efforts may decrease one’s exposure to EDCs, strict policy and regulation banning or controlling EDCs is most important. In this regard, biomonitoring can generate useful data that can help shape the required interventions,” he said, adding “If you cannot measure something, then you cannot control it.”
To show the importance of controlling EDCs through regulatory measures, Won Kim cited Korea’s Special Act on the Safety of Products for Children, which bans seven phthalates in children’s products, including toys and school supplies, above the maximum 0.1 percent limit. The detection rate for phthalates in erasers sold in Korea, for example, is low compared to other Asian countries, including the Philippines, because of the ban, which also applies to imported articles.
In a 2022 study conducted by the EcoWaste Coalition and the Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability (IDIS) in collaboration with WIOEH, 31 of the 40 erasers purchased in the Philippines and shipped to Korea for analysis were found to contain one or more phthalates such as DEHP, DBP, DiBP and DINP. Nineteen samples had phthalate concentrations of 10.1 percent to 36.7 percent. By comparison, only one of the 59 analyzed samples from Korea violated the 0.1 percent limit of phthalates in children’s products.
Aside from phthalates widely used as plasticizers in vinyl plastic and in personal care and cosmetic products, medical supplies, toys, and school supplies, other common EDCs are bisphenol A in canned foods; per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in non-stick cookware, grease-resistant food packaging and long-lasting lipsticks; brominated flame retardants in electronic appliances and gadgets; lead in paints, toys and school supplies; nonylphenol ethoxylates and other industrial chemicals in all-purpose cleaners and laundry detergents; agricultural products grown with herbicides and pesticides; and dioxins and other toxic by-products of incinerating waste, especially chlorinated materials.
To reduce exposure to phthalates and other EDCs, the two experts made several suggestions, including taking the necessary precautions such as eating fresh instead of canned or processed foods, avoiding the use of microwave, washing hands, wet mopping and dusting frequently, cutting on plastic use, and reducing cosmetic use, especially if not certified EDC-free. In the absence of scientific uncertainty, err on the side of caution and take a precautionary approach, the experts reminded.
At the end of the seminar, the EcoWaste Coalition presented a “Certificate of Recognition” to the WIOEH “in grateful appreciation for its collaboration with non-government organizations in the Philippines and in Asia in generating science-based evidence on the presence of EDCs in consumer products and in promoting awareness and understanding about the impacts of EDCs have on human health and the need for concerted action.”