13 April 2016

Exposure to hormone-disrupting substances costs Europe billions of Euros each year

Exposure to hormone-disrupting substances costs Europe billions of Euros each year. These substances are present in items such as food products, food packaging, pesticides, cosmetics and synthetic clothing. The cost for treatment related to these substances is at least 46 billion Euros per year, and the most pessimistic estimates may be as high as 288 billion Euros per year, according to a meta-analysis by Utrecht University Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences (IRAS) commissioned by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment. “It is high time that governments implement more policy measures to reduce exposure to these substances”, according to Utrecht University researchers and authors of the report, Ingrid Rijk, Majorie van Duursen and Martin van den Berg.

Martin van den Berg, professor in toxicology at the IRAS.

The report provides an overview of symptoms that, according to the current literature available, are related to exposure to hormone-disrupting substances and the cost that such exposure entails for society. These include more than 80 conditions, ranging from obesity, diabetes, infertility, breast- and testicular cancer to loss of IQ. “Disruptions in hormone levels often occur after exposure when the body is still in development, so at the foetal stage or as a young child”, says Martin van den Berg, Professor of Toxicology at Utrecht University’s Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences (IRAS). “It is high time that governments implement more policy measures to reduce exposure to these substances.” 

Increase in allergies
The greatest expenses seem to be due to neurological (behavioural) diseases, such as ADHD and autism, and metabolic diseases, such as obesity and diabetes. The authors conclude that there is too little information available to come to an accurate estimate of the costs for immune-related diseases caused by hormone-disrupting substances. “More attention needs to be paid to this issue, especially considering the increase in immunological diseases such as allergies”, says Van den Berg. “Hormone-disrupting substances may play a role in these conditions. And yet current legislation does not require companies to test chemical substances for their metabolic, neurological and immunotoxic effects.”

The researchers combined and compared published studies in which the costs of diseases due to hormone-disrupting substances have been calculated. Despite the different approaches used in these studies, the cost estimates correspond fairly well. The authors also identified additional costs for three symptoms endometriosis, neural tube defects and asthma. In total, they examined cost estimates for 16 of the more than 80 conditions identified.

Better insight into health costs
The authors emphasised that there are still many unknown variables related to these cost estimates, and scientists still do not fully agree on the causal relationships between these substances and the diseases listed. However, the authors do not provide a value judgement on these causal relationships. The estimates of the health costs include direct costs of health care, such as treatment and medication, as well as indirect costs, such as loss of productivity. They also include immaterial damages for some symptoms, such as early mortality.

“The cost estimates are therefore only a partial indication of the actual costs incurred by society. But this report shows that the health costs for Europe due to hormone-disrupting substances can vary widely in even the most optimistic scenario”, concludes Van den Berg. “This study was primarily intended to provide the government with better insight when prioritising policy measures to reduce costs, and for further research into the causal relationship between hormone-disrupting substances and various symptoms.”

Read the full report here:
Health cost that may be associated with Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals: an inventory, evaluation and way forward to assess the potential socio-economic costs of EDC-associated health effects in the EU