Endocrine disruptors: we suspected it but now it is confirmed: we are all contaminated.

4 min


Bisphenol, phthalate, paraben: for several years, these pollutants have entered the common language, under the general denomination of “endocrine disruptors”. A national study shows this Tuesday that all French, whatever their age, their habits or their location, are impregnated.

A child’s snack in plastic utensils. Plastic boxes pose health risks: endocrine disruptors. © Maxppp / Christophe Morin / Alsace

Bisphenol in baby bottles, phthalates in hygienic tampons, paraben in cosmetics: in recent years, the French have learned to be wary of these substances that are everywhere in our daily lives. Today, for the first time, a nationwide study measures the presence of these pollutants in the body of children and adults. The results confirm what we already suspected: these endocrine disruptors are present in the body of all the French, whatever their age, their way of life or their habits.

Children particularly contaminated

The reason ? These molecules are everywhere: in food, inside homes, on everyday objects. Children are particularly exposed, explains Sébastien Denys, director of the health-environment-work pole at Santé Publique France. “For example, if we take the example of dust in indoor environments, we know that children are more likely to touch the ground and objects contaminated by this dust, and then will bring them to their mouths.”

Of course, this is not a revelation and several studies have already looked into the subject. On the other hand, this latest study confirms for the first time that the entire population is affected, “and gives us objective measures of these impregnations, which are powerful elements for public policies,” adds Sébastien Denys.

What substances are they exactly?

The study is part of the Esteban survey, which aims to measure all the pollutants present in the body of the French. Since 2014, 1100 children and 2500 adults were questioned about their habits, and collected (urine, serum, hair). 70 biomarkers contained in six pollutants were analysed:

-Bisphenols A, F and S. Present in optical and dental resins as well as in certain plastics, “they are suspected to be associated with many pathologies such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular, respiratory, kidney diseases, some cancers as well as behavioural and reproductive disorders”, indicates the study from Santé Publique France.

-Phthalates. Although subject to European and French regulations, they are found in food packaging, toys, some floors, paints… “Most phthalates are classified as toxic substances for male reproduction,” the report notes.

-Parabens. Used in many cosmetics because of their antibacterial properties, “in the current state of knowledge, there is little data on their health effects with low levels of exposure”.

-Glycol ethers. These are products called “water” present in paints, inks, varnishes and other cleaning products. They are suspected of causing “toxic effects on reproduction and development in humans, as well as hemato-toxicity”.

-Brominated flame retardants. They are used mainly on the furniture by the builders, in order to slow the propagation of the fire in the event of beginning of fire. They disperse easily in the air, and “have thus gradually contaminated the environment and are found in the food chain,” says the study.

-Perfluorinated compounds. They are mainly carried by food and drinking water, as well as through manufactured products such as ski clothing. “Despite restrictions on the use of some perfluorinated compounds […], the results show that the population was exposed to one or more compounds,” the report concludes.

Which consequences for our health?

This is what is missing in the study: if there are likely pathological effects related to these substances, there are no formal conclusions and figures on their health consequences. However, it is already imperative to react, adds Sébastien Denys. “Regardless of the scientific uncertainties that still exist on the effects of these substances, we have the necessary elements to manage exposures to these pollutants, so as to anticipate the arrival of pathologies to populations.”

In this regard, the government unveiled on Tuesday, September 3, its second national strategy to fight against endocrine disruptors. Among the measures announced, new expertise to determine which substances are actually dangerous, as well as a new list of endocrine disruptors established as early as 2020.

For its part, Santé Publique France launched the same day a website, Agir pour Bébé (Act for baby), which provides advice to better sanitise the environment of newborns. Finally, the Esteban study must be completed by two other components: the first will provide conclusions on metal contamination and will be published at the end of the year. The second is on pesticides, and is expected in 2020.

If you’d also like a bit of information regarding healthy eating, have a read to our article about the 5 healthiest cuisines in the world.


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