Science Matters: Protecting Growth and Development

To observe October as Children’s Health Month, we will periodically post Science Matters feature articles about EPA’s children’s health research here on the blog.  Learn more about EPA’s efforts to protect children’s health by going to 

Children's Health MonthNormal growth and development, from conception and throughout pregnancy, to childhood and adolescence, depends on hormones.  These chemical messengers are produced by the body’s endocrine system and regulate growth, maturation, and reproduction.  

Scientists have learned that some exposures to hormone-like substances—what toxicologists refer to as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs)—can be disruptive to normal health and development, leading to potentially serious disease, reproductive issues, and other abnormalities later in life. EDCs can be found in many everyday products, including some plastic bottles and containers, food from cans with certain kinds of liners, pesticides, and detergents.

Because their bodies and internal systems are still forming, developing babies, infants, and children can be particularly vulnerable to the adverse health effects of EDCs. Those risks can be compounded by the fact that, in proportion to their body size, babies and children drink, eat, and breathe more than adults and thus are likely to take in relatively more of these substances.

Protecting children and others from exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals has been an EPA priority since the 1990s, when scientists hypothesized that “humans and wildlife species have suffered adverse health effects after exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals,” as outlined in the paper Research Needs for the Risk Assessment of Health and Environmental Effects of Endocrine Disruptors: A Report of the U.S. EPA-sponsored Workshop, (Environmental Health Perspectives. 1996 August, 104(4)).

Young family plays in the park.Since then, EPA researchers and grantees in universities have worked to understand the potential risks of EDCs to human health and wildlife.  The work includes prioritizing chemicals for testing through EPA’s innovative Endocrine Disruptors Screening Program and developing models to predict the biological pathways that can lead to endocrine disruption. The work also includes assessing the cumulative risk of chemical mixtures found in food, products, and drinking water. This work on chemical mixtures is important because the combined effects , even at low concentrations, might be different than they would be for individual chemicals..

By developing the tools and information needed to understand EDCs and their potential impacts on human health, Agency researchers and their partners are helping to protect the health of children, adults, and wildlife. The knowledge from the research has a variety of important impacts: it is valuable to manufacturers so they can ensure the safety of their products; it provides information to expectant mothers so that they can avoid EDC exposures before and during pregnancy; it offers parents, public health professionals, and decision makers at EPA and elsewhere science-based data and tools to make informed choices that will protect children, adults, and wildlife.

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