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Experts urge curb on pollutants to protect future generations

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Experts in Britain say that government and industry must act to reduce release of chemicals into the environment to limit potential risks to human health, especially health of the fetus in later life. Precautions are needed, they say—from safety testing to taxing marketed chemicals of environmental concern, as mooted by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution—even though supporting evidence is limited. Public distrust of environmental chemicals has grown since the pesticide scares of the last century, against a backdrop of increasing incidences of breast cancer and abnormal testicular development, though epidemiological research has not confirmed that organochlorine compounds are to blame. Far more abundant and potentially dangerous are phthalates, which recent animal studies have linked with abnormalities of testicular development in offspring and for which postnatal effects on reproductive function in humans have been suggested.

Existing evidence of damage to aquatic organisms by environmental chemicals is especially relevant because of the parallel with the fluid environment of the human fetus, and maternal exposure to organochlorine compounds has been shown to reduce fertility and increase testicular cancer in the fetus. “As fetal life is increasingly recognised as a time when susceptibility to adult disease may be induced as a result of dietary or lifestyle effects of the mother, more effects of chemical exposures seem likely to emerge.”

Nailing the environmental culprits is tough because of problems with methodology and confounding factors—that is why the experts are urging precautionary action.