Carpet padding and carpet being investigated (C) Daniel FriedmanEndocrine Disrupter Chemicals in Buildings
Common sources of & possible effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals in buildings

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Endocrine disrupting chemical hazards at or in buildings:

Here we list common building materials and products that, at least in some versions, may contain levels of these chemicals. Here we list possible building sources of these hazards and we also call attention to the greater risk of some more mundane but also more immediate life/safety hazards found at buildings.

We describe prudent avoidance as it could pertain to avoiding exposure to possible or likely sources of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in or around buildings.

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Possible Building-related Sources of Endocrine Disruptive Chemicals

Daniel Friedman

What is the Possible Endocrine Disruptive Chemical (EDC) Hazard & How Does it Occur in Buildings?

Significant and discussed in Our Stolen Future, Theo Colborn et al., is the observation that at certain critical points in the development of animals, presumably including humans, exposure to extremely low levels of endocrine disrupter chemicals (EDC's) (such as BPA - Bisphenol-A or BPA, Diethylstilbestrol - DES, dioxins, PCBs, and chemicals used in the production of certain cleansers, dyes, flame retardants, plastics, pesticides, white papers ) perhaps just a few molecules, or in the parts per trillion, is sufficient to cause disruption of the animal's development, including proper sex differentiation, or the lack of it that produced androgynous ducks unable to reproduce under such conditions.

A endocrine disrupter is a synthetic chemical compound that mimics natural hormones when it is taken into the body of a human or other animal. It "disrupts" the endocrine system by turning on or off normal chemical signals that in turn can affect normal hormone levels, bodily functions, and significantly, the development of embryos. Further, unlike naturally occurring hormones ingested, for example from plants (phytoestrogens), synthetically-generated hormones accumulate in the body and can have a half-life of decades or longer.

One significance of this finding includes the observation that an important medical effect that occurs with exposure to chemicals in extremely low concentrations means that experiments to test for correlations between chemical exposure and subsequent serious medical problems will be deeply flawed if, for example, the experimental design does not include testing for the presence of the chemical at extremely low levels. A related concern is that even if harmful effects from exposure to extremely low concentrations of an endocrine disrupter are occurring, teasing out and proving that relationship can be also extremely difficult.

Concern for the effects on humans of trace levels of certain chemicals - exposure levels considerably below most exposure standards - is not new.

As public awareness of the possible hazards of exposure to endocrine disrupters has increased,and in the interest of permitting reasonable efforts by building owners and occupants in seeking prudent avoidance of these substances, here we list common building materials and products that, at least in some versions, may contain levels of these chemicals.

"... today's version of the lead industry is the chemical industry - companies like Exxon Mobil, DuPont, BASF and Dow Chemical - over the years churning out disrupter chemicals that mimic the body's hormones. Endocrine disrupters are found in everything from plastics to pesticides, toys to cosmetics, and there are growing concerns over their safety." - Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, October 2013 [5]

Human exposure to phthalates is ubiquitous due to widespread commercial use. Although the compounds are reported to be rapidly metabolized, concentrations in the body appear to remain fairly stable due to ongoing exposure. The United States and Europe have banned some phthalates from consumer products primarily on the basis of reproductive toxicity data.

However, not all phthalates are regulated; meanwhile, research indicates toxicity may extend to other endocrine targets such as the thyroid gland, which is critical for proper neurodevelopment. A new study now reports an association between prenatal exposure to certain phthalates and adverse effects on test scores used to evaluate children’s behavior and executive functioning [EHP 118:565–571; Engel et al.]. - Barrett [2]

Rudel & Petrovich writing in Atmospheric Environment pointed out that significant un-answered questions remain about endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC) hazards:

While laboratory data on biological effects of EDCs raise concerns, they also leave many questions unanswered. Major uncertainties in understanding health risks of EDCs include the following:

  • No routine chemical screening identifies chemicals that act by known endocrine mechanisms.
  • Mechanisms by which chemicals may interfere with biological signaling are still incompletely described.
  • The implications of disrupting these biological signals are not well understood and so the toxicological implications are unknown.
  • Major exposure sources and pathways are not characterized.

Thus, while human data to support environmental endocrine disruption is extremely limited at this time, this lack of evidence is likely attributable to the broadness and complexity of the subject. In the meantime, information on chemical uses and air concentrations can aid in understanding major exposure sources and pathways in order to suggest opportunities for exposure reduction and aid in the design of human studies. - Rudel & Perovich (2009) [6]

Common Building Components & Products that May* be a Source of Endocrine Disrupters (EDCs) or similar hazards

Carpet & furnishings (C) InspectApedia.comIn the article we just quoted above, and noting that PCBs (cited next) are not the only source of EDCs, Rudel & Petrovich listed these common potential sources of endocrine disrupters that may be found on or in buildings:

... PCBs, used in

  • electrical equipment,
  • caulking,
  • paints and surface coatings;
  • chlorinated and brominated flame retardants, used in electronics, furniture, and textiles;
  • pesticides, used to control insects, weeds, and other pests in agriculture, lawn maintenance, and the built
  • environment; phthalates, used in vinyl, plastics, fragrances, and other products;
  • alkylphenols, used in detergents, pesticide formulations, and
  • polystyrene plastics; and parabens, used to preserve products like lotions and sunscreens. - Rudel & Perovich (2009) [6]

Caulks & Sealants

Carpet padding © Daniel FriedmanCarpets, carpet padding

Foam padding or cushions, esp. containing a flame retardant chemical

TDCPP -- chlorinated tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate, or 'chlorinated tris' is an additive to polyurethane foam used in upholstered furniture. It is found in dust, where it can likely lead to human exposure.

Potential health effects remain a concern. In 2011, TDCPP was added to the Proposition 65 list of chemicals known by the State of California to cause cancer. - Carignan et als (2013) [7]

Fuel oil & No. 2 Home Heating Oil

These products are more notable in discussions of their possible carcinogenic effects, but also see TERATOGENICITY of FUEL OIL found in our article on HEATING OIL EXPOSURE HAZARDS, LIMITS

Furniture & furnishings (textiles, especially flame retardant-treated

Laundry detergents

Paints & Coatings

Pesticides & Herbicides: Big Business Combats Scientists & Critics: Frogs and atrazine

Particularly on older homes that may have been treated with pesticides that are no longer used, and particularly if pesticides were applied improperly (spraying chlordane on building walls, for example) may have left a long-lived chemical hazard. See PESTICIDE EXPOSURE HAZARDS.

That the history of concern for the effects of endocrine disrupters and hormone mimicking chemicals on humans and other animals continues from Rachel Carlson's Silent Spring (1962) through Colborn et als.' Our Stolen Future als. (1996) continues to the present is illustrated by Law's description of Dr. Tyrone Hayes' research on the use of the herbicide atrazine (used on half of the corn produced in the U.S.).

As the Monsanto corporation is reported to have attacked and parodied Carlson in the 1960's, so Hayes in The New Yorker as well as Clare (2013) in Environmental Health News report extensive personal attacks on their critics by Syngenta, a Basel-based corporation selling more than $14 billion dollars' worth of seeds and pesticides each year.

Hayes studies the metamorphosis of tadpoles into frogs - animals whose oxygen-absorbent skin may make them particularly sensitive to chemicals in the environment. The research results were summed-up by Clare (2013) as:

Research has shown that atrazine [the second most widely used herbicide in the U.S. with annual sales of approximately $300 million] is prone to run off fields and contaminate water supplies. It also drifts hundreds of miles by air from sites where it has been sprayed.

Relatively few studies have examined atrazine's health effects using human subjects. It has been shown to act as an endocrine-disrupting chemical, meaning that it can block or mimic hormones, and some human studies have suggested that it may harm fetuses and reduce men’s sperm quality. An Indiana University study found that women who lived in areas with higher atrazine levels in water had children with higher rates of some genital birth defects. ...

The Holiday Shores case grew into a class action lawsuit, ultimately settled in 2012, after 8 years of litigation. While not admitting culpability, Syngenta agreed to pay $105 million last year toward filtration costs for more than 1,000 community water systems in Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Indiana, Iowa and Ohio. - Clare (2013)

Here are Syngenta's comments on Hayes' atrazine research as reported in The New Yorker in 2014:

In the course of The New Yorker magazine’s preparation of an article on Syngenta and the U.S. regulatory process, we provided important input and corrections of fact to both its staff writer and fact checker. Unfortunately, the magazine chose to ignore much of this information and gloss over key points, in order to present a highly slanted and false narrative to its readers. 2/6/14 - (Syngenta) retrieved 3/24/2014 from a paid advertisement link that appears in response to a Google search for the term "atrazine"

References on Atrazine, Frogs, Hayes & Endocrine Disruptive Effects of Atrazine

  • Carson, Rachel, Silent Spring, [book for sale at Amazon] Mariner Books; Anv edition (October 22, 2002), ISBN-13: 978-061824906. Review:
    Silent Spring, released in 1962, offered the first shattering look at widespread ecological degradation and touched off an environmental awareness that still exists. Rachel Carson's book focused on the poisons from insecticides, weed killers, and other common products as well as the use of sprays in agriculture, a practice that led to dangerous chemicals to the food source. Carson argued that those chemicals were more dangerous than radiation and that for the first time in history, humans were exposed to chemicals that stayed in their systems from birth to death. Presented with thorough documentation, the book opened more than a few eyes about the dangers of the modern world and stands today as a landmark work.
  • Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, John Peter Meyers., Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival?--A Scientific Detective Story, [book for sale at Amazon], Plume-Penguin Publishing, 1997, ISBN 0-452-27414-1., ISBN13: 9780452274143. This book is a seminal work on endocrine disrupters (chemical contaminants having impact at extremely low levels in the environment).
  • Colburn, Theo, re: Endocrine Disrupter Exchange [], Dr. theo Colborn From that website:
    The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, Inc. is the only organization that focuses primarily on the human health and environmental problems caused by low-dose and/or ambient exposure to chemicals that interfere with development and function, called endocrine disrupters ... TEDX's work focuses on the endocrine system, which is the exquisitely balanced system of glands and hormones that regulates such vital functions as body growth, response to stress, sexual development and behavior, production and utilization of insulin, rate of metabolism, intelligence and behavior. Hormones are chemicals such as insulin, thyroxin, estrogen, and testosterone that interact with specific target cells. The interactions occur through a number of mechanisms, the easiest of which to conceptualize is through a lock and key arrangement.
  • Crews, David. "Temperature-dependent sex determination: the interplay of steroid hormones and temperature." Zoological science 13, no. 1 (1996): 1-13.
  • Dhuigg, Charles, "Debating How Much Weed Killer Is Safe in Your Water Glass ", The New York Times, 22 August 2009
  • Gross, Rachel "Berkeley Scientist’s Herbicide Studies Raise Corporate Hackles", The New York Times, 17 March 2010
  • Hayes, Tyrone B., Atif Collins, Melissa Lee, Magdelena Mendoza, Nigel Noriega, A. Ali Stuart, and Aaron Vonk. "Hermaphroditic, demasculinized frogs after exposure to the herbicide atrazine at low ecologically relevant doses." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99, no. 8 (2002): 5476-5480. Abstract
    Atrazine is the most commonly used herbicide in the U.S. and probably the world. It can be present at several parts per million in agricultural runoff and can reach 40 parts per billion (ppb) in precipitation. We examined the effects of atrazine on sexual development in African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis). Larvae were exposed to atrazine (0.01–200 ppb) by immersion throughout larval development, and we examined gonadal histology and laryngeal size at metamorphosis. Atrazine (≥0.1 ppb) induced hermaphroditism and demasculinized the larynges of exposed males (≥1.0 ppb). In addition, we examined plasma testosterone levels in sexually mature males. Male X. laevis suffered a 10-fold decrease in testosterone levels when exposed to 25 ppb atrazine. We hypothesize that atrazine induces aromatase and promotes the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. This disruption in steroidogenesis likely explains the demasculinization of the male larynx and the production of hermaphrodites. The effective levels reported in the current study are realistic exposures that suggest that other amphibian species exposed to atrazine in the wild could be at risk of impaired sexual development. This widespread compound and other environmental endocrine disrupters may be a factor in global amphibian declines.
    Full document as PDF from NIH:
    Excerpt from the study conclusion:
    There are likely many factors involved in amphibian declines. Endocrine disruption by pesticides is but one potential cause, and atrazine only one such compound. However, given the widespread use and ubiquitous con- tamination by atrazine, its pattern of use, and its potency as an endocrine disrupter, atrazine likely has a significant impact on amphibian populations. In particular, given recent evidence that atrazine potentiates parasitic infections in amphibians (Kiesecker 2002) in addition to its impact on reproductive devel- opment, the role of atrazine in amphibian declines is of particular concern. Further, enhancement of atrazine effects when mixed with other pesticides, as indicated in our ongoing studies, must be explored.
  • Hayes, Tyrone B., Lloyd L. Anderson, Val R. Beasley, Shane R. de Solla, Taisen Iguchi, Holly Ingraham, Patrick Kestemont et al. "Demasculinization and feminization of male gonads by atrazine: consistent effects across vertebrate classes." The Journal of steroid biochemistry and molecular biology 127, no. 1 (2011): 64-73.
  • Hayes, Tyrone, Kelly Haston, Mable Tsui, Anhthu Hoang, Cathryn Haeffele, and Aaron Vonk. "Herbicides: feminization of male frogs in the wild." Nature 419, no. 6910 (2002): 895-896.
  • Hayes, Tyrone, Kelly Haston, Mable Tsui, Anhthu Hoang, Cathryn Haeffele, and Aaron Vonk. "Atrazine-induced hermaphroditism at 0.1 ppb in American leopard frogs (Rana pipiens): laboratory and field evidence." Environmental Health Perspectives 111, no. 4 (2003): 568.
  • Hayes, Tyrone B., Atif Collins, Melissa Lee, Magdelena Mendoza, Nigel Noriega, A. Ali Stuart, and Aaron Vonk. "Hermaphroditic, demasculinized frogs after exposure to the herbicide atrazine at low ecologically relevant doses." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99, no. 8 (2002): 5476-5480.
  • Howard, Clare, "Special Report: Syngenta's campaign to protect atrazine, discredit critics", Environmental Health News, 17 June 2013, Editor in Chief Marla Cone -, retrieved 3/25/14, original source:
  • Kavlock, Robert J., George P. Daston, Chris DeRosa, Penny Fenner-Crisp, L. Earl Gray, Steve Kaattari, George Lucier et al. "Research needs for the risk assessment of health and environmental effects of endocrine disrupters: a report of the US EPA-sponsored workshop." Environmental health perspectives 104, no. Suppl 4 (1996): 715.
  • Law, Rachel, "Annals of Science, A Valuable Reputation", The New Yorker, 10 February 2014 p. 52-62
  • Lee, Jennifer, "Popular Pesticide Faulted for Frogs' Sexual Abnormalities", The New York Times, 19 June 2003
  • Michaels, David. Doubt is their product: How industry's assault on science threatens your health. Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • New York Times, "Weed Killer Deforms Frogs In Sex Organs, Study Finds", 17 April 2002
  • Yoon, Carol Kaesuk, "Studies Conflict on Common Herbicide's Effects on Frogs", The New York Times, 19 November 2002

Plastic products used in or found in buildings

Plastic Water Tanks

PET - Polyethylene terephthalate (PETE, PETP, PET-P) is a thermoplastic polymer polyester plastic resin. plastic water tanks may be a health risk to consumers: Commentary published in Environmental Health Perspectives in April 2010 suggested that PET might yield endocrine disrupters under conditions of common use and recommended research on this topic. Proposed mechanisms include leaching of phthalates as well as leaching of antimony. Other authors have published evidence indicating that it is quite unlikely that PET yields endocrine disrupters - Web search 6/27/2010 Wikipedia. PET

To identify what kind of plastic was used to make your water or other storage tank or even your plastic water bottle or food container use the simple guide to plastic recycling codes and other plastic tank type identification suggestions at PLASTIC CONTAINERS, TANKS, TYPES and look for the recycling indicator or label on your plastic container.

Details about PET PETE PETP PET-P possible hazards: see WELL PUMP & WATER TANK SAFETY

* Not all products in these categories are shown or even believed to contain hormone mimicking chemicals or endocrine disrupters

Prudent Avoidance of Possible Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs)

OPINION: In our view, prudent avoidance as used here means that although research on the actual hazard of endocrine disrupters is ongoing and although there may be few endocrine disrupter exposure standards, enough data has been presented to support reasonable, "non-heroic" efforts at avoiding exposure to these substances. In other words, while abandoning a home or tearing off all of its vinyl siding (VINYL CHLORIDE HEALTH INFO) to replace with another material are almost certainly inappropriate and un-justified steps, other more cost-reasonable steps to avoid these materials would be appropriate.

Prudent avoidance means that we avoid un-justified costs or heroic actions that are driven more by fear than by sound data. But it can be difficult to sort out which hazards we read about are based on sound science and which are less rationally derived, or perhaps even exaggerated by some who provide services that benefit from a frightened consumer. At ENVIRO-SCARE - PUBLIC FEAR CYCLES we explain that regardless of the actual hazard level involved, public fear goes through cycles of awareness, concern, and then diminished concern as the hazard becomes familiar.

Examples of prudent avoidance might be seen in

  • choosing the type of plastic water tank to be used for storing drinking water
  • choosing to conduct well water tests for certain contaminants in areas where there have been known spills of chemicals or pesticides or industrial chemicals
  • removing in-building EDC sources that are most likely to expose occupants to hazards - such as sources of airborne particles rich in EDC from some carpet padding, flame-retardant-treated textiles or similar products

Watch out: generally we are more anxious about potential hazards that we cannot see or for which we cannot control our exposure than we are about more mundane hazards such as automobile crashes, failure to buckle a seatbelt, or unsafe steps and rails and stair-fall injuries. But in fact far more people are seriously injured or killed each day by those more mundane dangers.

Don't allow fear of EDCs (endocrine disrupting chemicals) exposure at your home or other building cause a failure to attend to more immediate and lethal hazards such as unsafe heating equipment or dangerous stairs and railings. At SAFETY HAZARDS GUIDE we provide an extensive list of common building safety & health hazards found in or at buildings such as

At "More Reading" below and at the "More Reading" links at the bottom of this article at the top of this article we list InspectApedia articles that list building materials & products that may contain endocrine disrupter chemicals.

At REFERENCES found at the end of this article we include citations of authoritative sources discussing the hazards of hormone mimicking chemicals, endocrine disrupters, industry sources of these substances, and the development of pertinent exposure standards.

[Disclosure: the author Daniel Friedman is a DES son. See Diethylstilbestrol - DES. Also see Our Stolen Future, Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers - discussed at Reviewers]

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