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Environmental Factor, April 2015

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Researchers tally substantial economic impact of EDC exposures

By Ernie Hood

Jerry Heindel

Heindel administers the NIEHS grants program in endocrine disruptors, developmental basis of diseases, reproductive toxicology, and obesity. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Leo Trasande speaking at his 2014 NIEHS seminar

Trasande, shown at his 2014 NIEHS seminar, is a faculty member in pediatrics and environmental medicine at the NYU School of Medicine, and in health policy at the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

An international group of researchers, including NIEHS scientist Jerry Heindel, Ph.D., and several NIEHS grantees, quantified the economic impact of health effects from exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in the European Union (EU). The impact is considerable, despite conservative estimates. The scientists estimated that such exposures result in an annual median economic burden ranging from approximately $165 billion (157 billion euros), or 1.23 percent of gross domestic product in the EU, up to $256 billion (269 billion euros).

The authors published four papers March 5 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. They selected three conditions with the strongest links to EDC exposure — obesity and diabetes, male reproductive disorders, and neurological effects. Three of the papers presented calculations associated with these conditions. The fourth article described the overarching methodologies and results of the project.

Conservative estimates and significant effects

The researchers addressed exposures to specific chemicals, including bisphenol A, phthalates, flame retardants, organophosphate pesticides, and DDE, which is the breakdown product of the banned insecticide DDT. The strongest data indicated that exposures to pesticides could lead to the loss of 13 million IQ points across the EU, as well as 59,300 children being born each year with intellectual disabilities.

“The economic cost estimate is very conservative, [as it is] based on assessment of less than 5 percent of the known EDCs, and the fact that the economic costs do not consider all of the costs associated with these chronic conditions,” said Jerry Heindel, Ph.D., NIEHS health scientist administrator and one of the authors.

A wake-up call

The EU is developing regulations targeting EDCs, so the findings come at a good time to potentially influence policy. The conclusion of the authors is clear. “There is a substantial probability of very high disease costs across the life span associated with EDC exposure in the EU,” they said, noting that those high costs will accrue annually as long as exposures continue unchanged. “Regulatory action to limit exposure to the most widely prevalent and potentially hazardous EDCs is likely to produce substantial economic benefits,” the authors wrote.

Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program, called the new findings a wake-up call for policymakers and health experts. Although the results do not translate directly into estimates of EDC exposure impact in the U.S., Heindel said it is likely that U.S. findings would be similar. Birnbaum agreed. “If you applied these numbers to the U.S., they would be applicable, and in some cases higher,” she told National Geographic.

A new model for environmental health science decision-making

To perform their calculations, the researchers used methods previously developed by the Institute of Medicine, the World Health Organization, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “The approach we have taken will potentially transform decision-making in environmental health,” the authors wrote.

Heindel said that the group is working to complete two similar papers, addressing female reproductive health and endocrine cancers. He said it is likely the analyses will then expand to include the U.S. and more diseases.

Heindel and NIEHS grantee Leonardo Trasande, M.D., of New York University (NYU), started and organized the project, securing funding from organizations including the Endocrine Society. The publications were announced simultaneously at ENDO 2015, the organization’s annual meeting held in San Diego, and at a release event in Brussels.

(Ernie Hood is a contract writer with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)


Trasande L, Zoeller RT, Hass U, Kortenkamp A, Grandjean P, Myers JP, DiGangi J, Bellanger M, Hauser R, Legler J, Skakkebaek NE, Heindel JJ.2015. Estimating burden and disease costs of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the European Union. J Clin Endocrinol Metab; doi:10.1210/jc.2014-4324 [Online 5 March 2015].

Legler J, Fletcher T, Govarts E, Porta M, Blumberg B, Heindel JJ, Trasande L. 2015. Obesity, diabetes, and associated costs of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the European Union. J Clin Endocrinol Metab; doi:10.1210/jc.2014-4326 [Online 5 March 2015].

Hauser R, Skakkebaek NE, Hass U, Toppari J, Juul A, Andersson AM, Kortenkamp A, Heindel JJ, Trasande L. 2015. Male reproductive disorders, diseases, and costs of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the European Union. J Clin Endocrinol Metab; doi:10.1210/jc.2014-4325 [Online 5 March 2015].

Bellanger M, Demeneix B, Grandjean P, Zoeller RT, Trasande L. 2015. Neurobehavioral deficits, diseases, and associated costs of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the European Union. J Clin Endocrinol Metab; doi:10.1210/jc.2014-4323 [Online 5 March 2015].

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