5 March 2015. Within the European Union, much concern has been expressed about chemicals that are endocrine disruptors, i.e., interfere with the hormone system. The attention at first focused on adverse effects like decreasing sperm quality and risks of breast cancer. A new report released today presents two huge surprises.
First, the costs associated with endocrine disruption are enormous, the total being about €150 billion (or $200 billion) per year. This amount corresponds to no less than 1.2% of the EU gross domestic product – and it is most likely underestimated.
Second, the major contributor to these enormous costs is chemical brain drain. Some of the chemicals that interfere with hormone systems affect important hormones that are crucial for brain development, one of them being the thyroid hormone. If there is insufficient thyroid hormone available during fetal brain development, the result can be mental retardation, autism, or other serious disorders. A series of animal studies and three population studies in the United States show that organophosphate pesticides can inhibit thyroid functions and cause loss of IQ points in children prenatally exposed to these compounds.
So how were these costs calculated? They followed a standard method in economics called human capital evaluation, which includes expenses, such as direct costs of hospital stays, physician services, nursing home care and other medical costs. The researchers also calculated estimates of indirect costs such as lost worker productivity, early death and disability. However, intangible costs, such as pain or loss of quality of life, were not included. These methods are similar to those used when calculating the costs from mercury exposure in the EU. But the costs associated with organophosphate pesticides and other endocrine disruptors are more than ten times as high as the costs from mercury exposures.
The report concludes that the calculated costs should be taken into account in the decision-making about regulating endocrine-disrupting chemicals. It also documents why regulation of chemical brain drainers is necessary and cost-efficient.