A new study that alleges to estimate the costs “reasonably attributed” to exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) has appeared, another in a series of speculative studies which seem to blossom in the spring.
Released last week at ENDO 2015, the Endocrine Society’s Annual Meeting & Expo in San Diego, and published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, the new study, led by Leonardo Trasande of New York University School of Medicine, was designed and launched to make a splash. For example, this study announces that the “cost” of exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in the EU is €157 billion – nearly the same as the GDP of Ireland or the Czech Republic! This is a huge increase over the “costs” calculated in the past. Is it based in fact? Or constructed on informed speculation to get attention?
Fact or Speculation? Headline numbers shouting for attention.
In the past year, we have seen many publications which claim to show that EDCs are linked to some sort of health outcome, which we have discussed in June 2014 and January 2014. The scale and scope of these studies keeps expanding to push upwards the headline figure – shouting for attention.
If you read the study, the answer is clear. The work of Trasande et al is, at best, informed speculation, at worst deliberate fabrication. The authors indirectly say as much: “In the past, certainty of causation, however defined, has been presumed to be a requirement before pursuing estimates of attributable disease burden or costs, when in reality causation is not simply binary” (p. 3). Re-phrasing without the jargon, the authors themselves admit that their analysis focuses on products where a causal link between exposure to the chemical and a negative health outcome has not been established. In other words, they speculate and take as fact a causal relationship which does not exist. This is the first step in their syllogistic analysis, and it leads to their faulty conclusion.
To estimate the cost or burden on society, due to healthcare expenditure or lost work days, of a product, substance or chemical, you first have to be sure that the chemical actually causes harm. Trasande et al have decided to dispense with that step.
For example, the only EDC mentioned specifically in the first paragraph is Bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA has undergone more than 20 major assessments in recent years, each of which confirmed BPA as safe for use. It is one of the most tried and tested substances in scientific history. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reconfirmed in January that BPA poses no consumer health risks. The US Food and Drug Administration arrived at the same conclusion in November 2014.
There is an even more important fact that is the authors ignore – BPA is not an EDC. BPA does not meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) definition of an endocrine disrupting chemical. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stated in January 2015 that “based on the WHO criteria, it is not possible to conclude that BPA is an endocrine disruptor.”
We are strong proponents of science-based health and safety assessments for people in Europe and around the world. It is reassuring to see credible voices standing for science-based, rigorous assessments. One of these voices is the one of Richard Sharpe, Professor of reproductive health research at the University of Edinburgh, and a regular contributor to the Science Media Center. Referring to the Trasande et al. study, he recently told Food Quality news, that “most of the content of these publications is interpretation and informed speculation, and none of us should lose sight of this.” That sums it all, wouldn’t you say?