International advocacy group WECF (Women in Europe for a Common Future) has released a publication called Women and Chemicals which calls for more political action to protect women from harmful chemicals.
As WECF puts it, in the modern world men and women are continually exposed to hazardous chemicals in everday life. But women are often differently exposed due to biological susceptibilities, gender roles and other factors.
The publication looks at the impacts of things like highly hazardous pesticides, mercury, and endocrine disrupting chemicals on women’s health. Women and Chemicals was developed with support and expertise from the United Nations as well as civic and scientific institutions. The views expressed in the publication are WECF’s.
“Hazardous chemicals can be found in the air we breathe, in the food we eat, in the water we drink. People are largely unaware of this daily chemical exposure,” says a press release from WECF. The negative impacts of these chemicals affect the environment and human health and can cause a number of lifelong and irreversible diseases and chronic ailments.
The World Health Organisation has established links between hazardous chemicals and the increased risk of breast cancer. It estimates that around 1.7 million women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020, an increase of 26% compared to existing levels, which cannot be explained solely with reference to genetic or other factors.
Job roles and toxins
The publication looks at where women are exposed to chemicals both at home and at work, and looks more closely at particular occupational roles such as pesticide sprayers, waste pickers, house cleaners, and employees in the plastics industry. It also looks at the effects accruing from being consumers of products which contain toxins. Exposure to toxic chemicals can lead to serious health effects, such as (breast) cancer, diabetes or infertility.
Corinne Lepage, Former French environment minister and chair of the WECF Board of Trustees, says: “I am worried especially about hormone disrupting chemicals. Although we know about the threat to [the] environment and human health, the EU Commission so far has not been able to regulate EDCs. In particular women and men who are planning to have children, need to be better protected from and informed about EDCs. This report is a good starting point to show the linkage between chemical exposure of women and increasing rates of diseases and that political action is needed now.”
EDCs and effects on very young children
Some substances such as endocrine disrupting chemicals can also have negative impacts on very young children. This was also affirmed by statements in 2015 from the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) and the Endocrine Society (see this document). FIGO has commented that “exposure to toxic environmental chemicals during pregnancy is ubiquitous and is a threat to healthy human reproduction”. FIGO and the Endocrine Society both urge political action to be taken.
Alexandra Caterbow of WECF commented: “In this report we focused on women, because often men’s health impacts are already better known, from reduced sperm-counts to testicular cancer and genital malformations. We call on urgent legislative measures to better protect the health of women, men and children from hazardous chemicals. Immediate steps have to be taken to end use of highly hazardous pesticides, to strictly regulate EDCs such as Bisphenol A from consumer products and packaging, to ban mercury use in artisanal small gold mining, and to promote the use of safer substitutes and non-chemical alternatives”.
To celebrate the launch of this publication, WECF will be hosting an Ask Me Anything (AMA) event on Reddit where they will invite the general public to ask questions on the findings of the report.