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Recent Findings on Early Puberty in Girls Highlight Urgent Need for New Chemicals Policy

Findings Support Previous Studies Linking  Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals to Early Puberty

Environmental Health Advocates Urge Congress to Pass Pending Bills to Overhaul Toxic Substances Control Act

A new study released yesterday in the journal Pediatrics found that girls are developing breasts earlier than ever, elevating their risk of breast cancer and other health problems. Exposure to chemicals that disrupt hormones, such as Bisphenol A (BPA), some preservatives, surfactants, and plastic additives may be among the contributing factors.

“Young girls are exposed to dozens of potentially toxic chemicals on a daily basis,” said Ted Schettler, M.D., M.P.H., Science Director for the Science and Environmental Health Network.  “Some of these can mimic the natural hormone, estrogen.  Although individually their estrogenic activity may be relatively weak, their effects are additive.  In the aggregate they could be having significant health effects, including contributing to the early onset of breast development.  We need a new law to evaluate chemicals and protect our children from harmful exposures.”

Under our current chemicals policy, the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), toxic chemicals are virtually unregulated, without any requirement that chemicals be tested to assess their ability to disrupt hormones.  However, there are bills pending in Congress right now — the Safe Chemicals Act in the Senate and the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act in the House — that would use new science to bring our chemicals policy up to date.

“Today’s study is just the latest evidence that unregulated chemicals are having a serious impact on our children’s health,” said Andy Igrejas, Director of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, which represents 250 environmental health groups working to overhaul TSCA.  “Cracking down on those chemicals needs to move to the front burner for Congress and the President.”

According to the new study, conducted by researchers from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco, more than 1 in 10 girls have already begun developing breasts by the age of 8 — the first evidence of the start of puberty in many girls.  This trend correlates with increasingly widespread exposures to endocrine disrupting compounds.  Some chemicals, like BPA (a ubiquitous chemical used to make plastics and some food can linings), as well as some preservatives, surfactants, pesticides, and plastic additives, can mimic estrogen.  Others, including phthalates, which are plasticizers used in many products including flooring, shower curtains, and personal care products, interfere with the male hormone, testosterone. Still others, including many commonly used flame retardants, interfere with thyroid hormones.

According to today’s release, obesity is another contributor to early puberty. Although obesity has long been attributed to excessive eating and too little exercise, a number of studies now show that chemical exposures can add to the risk.  (More info on toxic chemicals and obesity can be found here:

The findings of the new study varied by race. Among 7-year-olds, about 10% of whites, 15% of Hispanics and 23% of blacks had some breast tissue.  Among 8-year-olds, the numbers grew to 18% of whites, almost a third of Hispanics and half of blacks.  The pending legislation to overhaul our national chemicals policy would take into consideration the increased exposure of communities of color to toxic chemicals.  The new law would address “hot spots” — or neighborhoods located next to sources of intense pollution, like industrial plants, diesel refueling stations, and toxic waste dumps, generally located in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color — where there are greater rates of cancer, asthma, learning disabilities and other diseases.