A study that is being reported in hundreds of media around the world simultaneously (that is the first clue of science by press release) claims that pregnant women exposed to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in detergents, solvents and pesticides have a much greater risk of giving birth to boys with hypospadias. This is junkscience on steroids.
With some digging one can find the actual study. It was made available online as a pre-publication proof in European Urology, another Elsevier publication. Even if one doesn’t understand anything about chemistry or toxicology, it’s immediately clear evidence of junk science. The authors identified 300 children in southern France, where most hypospadias surgery is performed, and used a questionnaire to find the parent’s occupations and a job-exposure matrix for endocrine-disruptors, then they estimated their environmental exposures according to their zip code and distance from surrounding hazards. Finally, they performed a multivariate analysis. In other words, it’s another GIGO data dredge epidemiological study that didn’t actually measure anything in the parents or babies.
Sadly, most consumers and reporters are easily scared by such claims because they don’t understand basic chemistry or toxicology, and that the entire endocrine-disruptor scare isn’t based on good science. Nor it is even scientifically plausible. As many scientists believe, this is another pseudoscience scare promoted by environmentalists to malign modern agriculture and food production, and activists attempting to uncover hidden dangers in every product made by greedy indifferent corporations.
With everything, the dose makes the poison.
Nature is a hormone factory. There are over 173 plants and 43 common foods in the human diet that are estrogenically active (“endocrine disruptors”) in laboratory tests, including carrots, celery, coffee, oats, hops, corn, cumin, beans, barley, garlic, olive oil, peanut oil, plums, peas, rice, sage, soy, cinnamon, beets, grapefruit, parsley, pineapple, wheat germ, potatoes, cherries, etc. The phytoestrogens naturally in our foods are up to 10,000 times more potent than synthetic estrogens. Science has demonstrated time and again that our bodies do not differentiate between natural and synthetic substances with respect to potential adverse health effects. The estrogenic effects from the total amount of foods we eat are an estimated 40 million times greater than those from synthetic chemicals in our diet. So far, scientists have been unable to find credible evidence that either pose a risk to our health.
In fact, 20 years of research on the low levels of endocrine disruptor chemicals we are exposed to in products and foods has been unable to support endocrine-disruptor scares. In “Endocrine Disruption: Fact or urban legend?” international researchers concluded that health risks from our typical exposure to endocrine-disruptors, even cocktails of chemical exposures, “remains an unproven and unlikely hypothesis.”