Toxic Talk and Labels

Three Ways You May be Exposed to Hormone Disruptors

+ CV Skinlabs Team

We’ve talked about chemicals that can mess with your hormones in a few former posts. We’ve mentioned how BPA in plastics can cause neural and behavioral effects in infants and children, how personal-care products with hormone-like chemicals like parabens and phthalates may contribute to cancer risk, and how pesticides can have hormone-disrupting effects.

If you’ve been keeping up on your research, you’ve probably already changed your habits to stay away from BPA, pesticides, parabens, and phthalates. However, hormone-disrupting chemicals are lurking in other places you may not have thought about. To help you increase your level of protection, we gathered some more information.

Tap water. Pesticides and herbicides can seep into your drinking water supply through the groundwater, and some of these may interfere with normal hormone function. An example: the herbicide called “atrazine.” The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it’s safe to ingest it at 3 parts per billion, but some scientists think this level is too high. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports that in a 2009 analysis of the surface and drinking water across the Midwest and Southern United States, about 75 percent of stream water and about 40 percent of all groundwater samples from agricultural areas tested contained atrazine. Concentrations as low as 0.1 parts per billion have been shown to alter the development of sex characteristics in frogs. The herbicide can also react with other pesticides to increase their toxic effects.

The NRDC recommends that concerned citizens use a household water filter, such as one that fits on the tap. Make sure it’s certified by NSF International, which follows certain safety standards. To learn more about choosing the right filter, see this page.

Meat. You’ve heard about the hormones present in beef. Scientists believe about two-thirds of American cattle raised for slaughter today are injected with hormones to make them grow faster.1 American dairy cows are also injected with hormones to make them give more milk. The USDA and FDA say these hormones are safe, but according to the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures Relating to Public Health, the use of six natural and artificial growth hormones in beef production poses a potential risk to human health.2 The Committee also questioned whether hormone residues in meat might disrupt human hormone balance, causing developmental problems, interfering with the reproductive system, and even leading to the development of breast, prostate or colon cancer.

To protect yourself, choose hormone-free beef and rBGH-free dairy products. Foods that carry the “USDA-certified organic” label can’t carry any artificial hormones. Check the “Eat Well Guide” online for a listing of stores, restaurants, and producers that sell hormone-free meat and dairy.

Scented things. We’ve warned you about artificial fragrances before, but it’s worth mentioning again. Even if you’re purchasing fragrance-free personal-care products, for instance, you may still be exposed to hormone-disrupting chemicals like phthalates in your household cleaners, air fresheners, laundry detergents, baby-care products, and candles. You may find them even in your mailbox, from magazine “perfume strips” to scented stationery. These chemicals can cause skin sensitivity, rashes, and dermatitis, and may aggravate bronchial conditions and exacerbate asthma. They can enter the body through the skin, through inhalation, and through ingestion, where they may cause more severe problems.

Read ingredient labels and watch for the word “fragrance.” Look for “fragrance-free” options, and purchase products from manufacturers that strive to incorporate more natural ingredients, and check your favorite personal-care products with the Cosmetics Database for safety.

Have you changed your habits to cut down on hormone-disruptors? Please share your thoughts.

Photo courtesy malla_mi via

  1. Raloff, Janet. “Hormones: Here’s the Beef: environmental concerns reemerge over steroids given to livestock.” Science News 161, no. 1, January 5, 2002, 10.
  2. The Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures Relating to Public Health. “Assessment of Potential Risks to Human Health from Hormone Residues in Bovine Meat and Meat Products.” European Commission, April 30, 1999.
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