Health Watch: Hormone Disruptors . . . a Silent Threat in Northern Ireland?

Article excerpt

The movie Erin Brockovich made the headlines last year, as Julia Roberts scooped an Oscar for her performance as the one-woman crusader against toxic chemical pollution, in a small American town.

Unfortunately, this was not just Hollywood fiction. This was a true story, in which the poorly-controlled hazards of toxic waste tragically affected the lives of hundreds of people and their children. It is not an issue confined to one town, city, country or continent. It is a global problem, with local, as well as global effects.

Jim Kitchen, Head of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Northern Ireland is encouraging everyone to learn more about the dangers of toxic chemicals. He says: "We are just as vulnerable here in Northern Ireland, as we would be in any other part of the world. More than 300 man-made chemicals that did not exist in our great-grandparents' time, have been found to contaminate human bodies and we are exposed to more every day.

"We are passing a legacy of potential ill health on to our children - before they are even born. By learning about the dangers of toxic chemicals, we can reduce the effect on ourselves and, more importantly, on future generations.''

Half-a-century ago, scientists made the unsettling discovery that man-made compounds, such as the pesticide DDT, accumulate in the bodies of people and wildlife.

In a quest for a more convenient lifestyle, developments in industry and agriculture, over the last century, have increased the levels of toxic chemicals in everything, from the food we eat and the water we drink, to the air we breath.

Everything from tin-cans to TVs and many other products, harbour synthetic chemicals that could affect our health, as well as the health and fertility of our children.

Of recent concern is the ability of some man-made contaminants to be able to interfere with a body's hormone (or endocrine) system. Hormones are vital in regulating bodily functions. Produced by a variety of (endocrine) glands, they act as chemical messengers, telling cells in our body what to produce, how and when to grow, and even when to switch off and die.

They play a pivotal role in the sexual development of the developing foetus, as well as helping to form the nervous system and vital organs. Chemicals which have the ability to interfere with the normal function of these chemical messengers are termed 'endocrine disruptors' (EDCs). Scientists have found that EDCs can have adverse effects on the body at very low doses.

Scientists from WWF - the global environment network - have collected shocking evidence of the damaging effect of these chemicals on ourselves and wildlife. …