Scientists Fear Hormones From Common Solvents

Four chemicals present both inside and outside homes might disrupt our endocrine systems at levels considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to an analysis released today.

Chemicals such as benzene (toluene), ethylbenzene, and xylene are everywhere: they can be found in the environment and many items inside our homes and businesses. There have been links to heart and reproductive problems. The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, Boulder (TEDX), and University of Colorado Boulder now believe these adverse health effects could be caused by the chemicals' low-level ability to alter hormone levels.

Ashley Bolden is a research associate at TEDX, and was the principal author. And for many of the health effects, we believe it has disrupted the endocrine signaling pathways.

Bolden, along with colleagues, including scientist, activist and author Theo Colborn, who died last December, analyzed more than 40 studies about the health effects of low exposure.

Colborn co-authored the book "Our Stolen Future" with Dianne and Pete Dumanoski. They are also founders of Environmental Health News, and chief scientists at Environmental Health Sciences.

The exposures were lower than those listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for chemicals. This is an estimate of the inhalation exposure that would not cause any health effects during a person’s lifetime.

Bolden stated that many of the problems in health, including asthma, diabetes, high birth weights and cardiovascular disease, as well as preterm births and abnormal sperm, can be traced back to early disturbances of the developing endocrine systems.

Although the analysis does not prove that low-level exposure causes hormone disruption, it is possible. There are however concerns about potential issues with the development of hormone systems.

"Hormones enable the body to talk with itself and get things done. You can have all kinds of health problems if you interrupt that," Susan Nagel, an associate professor at University of Missouri-Columbia Obstetrics, Gynology and Women's Health School of Medicine, said. She was not part of the study.

Cathy Milbourn is a spokesperson of the EPA. She stated via email that she would review the study and integrate the results into her work.

She said that "EPA screens thousands of chemicals for possible risk of endocrine disruption." The chemicals that are at highest risk for endocrine disruption will be evaluated further once they have been identified.

Four chemicals can be found in the wellheads of crude oil or natural gas extraction. After refining they are used in gasoline additives as well as in many consumer products, such as adhesives.

According to a 2013 EPA Report, Ethylbenzene was one of the most used chemicals in toys and equipment for children. The report revealed that toluene was among the top ten chemicals found in consumer products like paints and fuels.

These four chemicals can be found in indoor and outdoor atmospheres through vehicle emissions, fossil fuel combustion and volatilization from products. Bolden explained that 90 to 95 percent in studies measuring the indoor air quality of homes and offices found chemicals.

Katie Brown, spokeswoman of Energy in Depth (a program of Independent Petroleum Association of America), stated in an email, "Products deemed safe" by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission were more hazardous than oil and gas production.

She said that contrary to what they intended, the report shows that oil and gas exploration should not be more fearful than home products.

Although the Consumer Specialty Products Association is a trade association that represents manufacturers of consumer products such as cleaning products and pesticides, it declined to comment. However, a spokesperson stated that most member companies don't typically use any chemicals.

Bolden and his colleagues found that indoor levels of several chemicals were greater than outdoor in many of their monitoring studies, suggesting that individuals might have been exposed in their own homes.

Bolden stated that indoor air circulation is poor for a lot of the time.

Nagel stated that there is a need to examine the effects of exposure to these chemicals at ambient levels. She said that the study reveals "a lot" we do not know about these chemicals' potential effects on humans.

Nagel's lab previously demonstrated using human tissues that these chemicals could disrupt androgens and estrogens.

According to the authors, regulators need to pay as much attention as they have given recent greenhouse gas emissions to air contaminants.

The study, published in Environmental Science and Technology journal today, stated that "tremendous efforts" have resulted in successful regulations to control greenhouse gasses in an effort to lower global temperature.

"Similar efforts should be made toward compound that causes poor indoor and outdoor air quality."