You may have read in La Tribune.fr, Le Monde, 20minutes.fr or RTL.fr that the alleged impact of exposure to endocrine disruptors in the US is an extraordinary $340 billion. This number is so large is seems implausible. And it probably is.
The paper at the source of these reports follows in the steps of previous speculative studies that use loose extrapolations to shock us, but have little basis in reality.
First off, let’s remember that we are surrounded by endocrine active substances. Natural substances like soy, carrots, garlic, or coffee all have endocrine active properties. Suggesting that our society bears a cost from these endocrine active substances is a bit of a stretch.
It’s true that the study’s numbers make headlines. Media outlets, from CNN to Reuters, were quick to report on the fact that health costs allegedly linked to exposure amount to more than 2.3% of the US’ Gross Domestic Product. But do these numbers actually tell us something valuable?
This is not the first time that this team of researchers, lead by Dr. Trasande of the New York University School of Medicine, claims to calculate the costs to society from low-level but daily exposure to alleged hazardous chemicals. Similar studies were published in 2014 for the US and the EU, and in 2015 for the EU; in all these studies, the evidence put forward is tenuous to say the least.
Indeed, the majority of studies cited by the authors do not show that exposure to specific chemicals causes health effects. Rather, the authors focus on correlations between exposure to certain chemicals and diseases. They even caution that the statistical modeling used in the analysis significantly discounted disease numbers to account for “likely” as opposed to actual people with any particular condition.
The motivation behind such studies is to call for “a stronger regulatory oversight of endocrine-disrupting chemicals.” However, this has to be done in a responsible manner. For example, at the moment the EU is determining criteria to identify endocrine disruptors. Scaremongering with over-inflated and ungrounded figures on the so-called costs on endocrine disruptors should not be a motivation. Otherwise, substances which are the best possible alternative for specific applications, such as BPA, which is endocrine active but not disrupting according to the World Health Organisation definition, find themselves in “the eye of the storm” for no reason.