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UN Report: household products cause cancer, fertility issues

Saturday 23 Feb 2013 4:39 p.m.

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A new report has found growing evidence that manmade chemicals are behind a global surge in cancer, birth defects and infertility cases.

Many of the chemicals are used every day in our homes, schools and offices.

Vast deposits of gas lie under the land in South Africa, and campaigners want it to stay there. They say the chemicals used to extract it are endocrine disruptors, or EDCs. They affect fertility and development, but the damage can stay hidden for years.

“If somebody's feeling sick and they go to a doctor for tests, unless the doctor or the physician specifically tests for those chemicals, the tests won't reveal their presence,” says Jonathan Deal of the Treasure Karoo Action Group. “And that's why we're only finding about a dozen years later that the health effects are now coming out."

It's an issue that's not limited to industry. The same dangers lurk in our homes and offices.

Malcolm Rands has campaigned against EDCs for 20 years. His products are deliberately made without them.

But the chemicals are found in many other everyday items, from toys and food containers to cosmetics and cleaning products.

“First there was the tobacco industry, then processed foods and now household chemicals,” says Mr Rands, founder of Ecostore. “It's improving and I can see in the future they will disappear, and people will ask why on earth were we covering our bodies with petro-chemicals.”

Nearly 800 chemicals are believed to interfere with our endocrine, or hormonal, system.

A report for the United Nations and World Health Organisation says another 145,000 chemicals are still untested.

As their use has grown, there's been a surge in endocrine-related disorders, including testicular and breast cancer. Asthma in children has more than doubled in 20 years. And there's been a dramatic worldwide drop in fertility rates, with up to 40 percent of men now having low sperm counts.

The report's authors say it's a global threat and more research is vital to confirm the link between the EDCs and the health disorders.

Another concern is that many manufacturers don't identify all of the chemicals they use in a product, so it's likely we're being exposed to an even higher risk than that estimated by the researchers.

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