(Beyond Pesticides, October 25, 2016) Last week, a study, Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the USA: a population-based disease burden and cost analysis, published in The Lancet journal, concludes that exposure to pesticides and other chemicals found in common household items, such as toys, makeup and detergent, costs the U.S. more than $340 billion annually in health care costs and lost wages. The chemicals in question, endocrine disruptors (EDCs), interfere with the body’s hormone system, which can lead to a variety of health problems.
According to Environmental Health News, the researchers estimate the costs by looking at exposure data and then projecting 15 medical conditions that are linked to endocrine disruptors and their associated health costs and lost wages. The findings came from calculations made by the Endocrine Society, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Environment Program. A group of flame retardant chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) were the worst offenders in the U.S., accounting for nearly two-thirds of estimated health problems. These chemicals were estimated to annually cause about 11 million lost IQ points and 43,000 additional cases of intellectual disability, costing around $268 billion. Pesticide exposure, the second most costly chemical group in the U.S., causes an estimated 1.8 million lost IQ points and another 7,500 intellectual disability cases annual, with an estimated cost of $44.7 billion.
Endocrine disruptors work either by mimicking naturally produced hormones, blocking hormone receptors in cells, or affecting the transport, synthesis, metabolism or excretion of hormones. These impacts can result in devastating effects on one’s health, including behavioral and learning disorders, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), birth defects, obesity, early puberty, infertility, cardiovascular disease, and childhood and adult cancers. Nearly 100 percent of people have detectable amounts of EDCs in their bodies, according to the introductory guide to EDCs published by the Endocrine Society and IPEN.
According to Environmental Health News, the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers, not surprisingly slammed the study, saying the research was speculative and the conclusions were based off of “cherry-picked” data. Leonardo Trasande, M.D., associate professor and researcher at the NYU School of Medicine, who is also the senior author of the study, countered that the estimates were actually on the conservative side. Researchers calculated the health-related costs from less than 5% of known endocrine disrupting chemicals. Philippe Grandjean, MD, a professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health, commented on the study, saying, “Of course it would be great to know more, but my prediction is that the calculated costs to society will increase substantially once we get better documentation on … additional substances and additional adverse effects.”
Previous studies have shown that endocrine disrupting chemicals and other pesticides place a large burden of cost on the public through resulting health effects. In 2015, Dr. Grandjean co-authored a study showing that exposure to EDCs results in approximately â‚¬ 150 billion ($162 billion) in health care costs in the European Union each year. The analysis found (with 70-100% probability) that each year in Europe, 13 million IQ points are lost due to prenatal organophosphate exposure (pesticides such as chlorpyrifos and malathion), and 59,300 additional cases of intellectual disability are caused. Pesticides were found to be the most costly of the EDCs analyzed, accounting for â‚¬ 120 billion ($130 billion) of the estimated â‚¬ 150 billion ($162 billion) in healthcare expenditures each year. In July 2016, a study was released that showed lower IQ (intelligence quotient) in children born to mothers who during their pregnancy were living in close proximity to chemical-intensive agricultural lands where organophosphate pesticides were used. The researchers estimated that each one point decrease in IQ decreases worker productivity by approximately 2%, and reduces lifetime earnings of $18,000 (in 2005 market standards).
Ultimately, the widespread adoption of organic management is necessary to protect consumers in the long-term. While some may argue that organic is too expensive, the simple fact is that chemical companies are able to externalize the social cost of their products in the form of healthcare costs to consumers, and numerous other adverse effects. Consumers should not feel upset over paying the higher cost. In essence, organic shoppers are paying more to protect their health, the environment where the food is grown, the farmworkers that grow the food, the soil the food is growth in, and the pollinators and other wildlife in the area. If consumers paid the true cost of conventional food production, prices for conventionally grown goods would certainly be more expensive than organic products, which are certified through a process that protects human health and the environment. For the real story on the affordability of organic food, see our article here.
As we encourage more farmers to move toward organic, and more consumers to purchase organic foods, we must fight to keep organic strong. Consumers and producers can help maintain the integrity of the organic label, and thus protect the food we eat as well as the environment, by reading more about the issues. Currently, the National Organic Standards Board is accepting comments to protect organic standards until October 26. Click here to see the issues! For more information on the benefits of purchasing organic foods, see Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience database, which documents the impacts on the environment and farmworkers of the toxic chemicals used in conventional agriculture.
Source: Environmental Health News
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.