Plastic chemicals harm girls and boys? Fat chance!

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USA Today has begun a series this week pedalling the supposed link between trace level chemical exposure in consumer products and children’s health. So far, the alarmist lineup includes articles claiming that these chemicals — in the guise of “endocrine disruptors" —cause early puberty in girls while delaying it in boys.

Reporter Liz Szabo grouped “hormone-like environmental chemicals” with plausible puberty-hastening variables like obesity and genetic factors. She quotes Breast Cancer Fund’s Sandra Steingraber, who believes that because of these factors, “we've shortened the childhood of girls by about a year and a half.” A recent study asserts that one in ten white girls begin developing breasts by age seven — twice the rate seen in 1997.

Predictably, a companion article blaming chemicals for boys’ delayed puberty, along with obesity, targets atrazine and cites the long-debunked work of biologist Tyrone Hayes, Ph.D., linking atrazine to gender-bending effects in frogs. The article neglects to note that Hayes’ work has been condemned by even our own EPA, and none of his “research” has been confirmed outside his own lab. This is a good example of the junk passing for science that the USA Today series is based upon.

Szabo also posits that phthalates may have contributed to changes in boys’ development, referring to University of Rochester’s Shanna Swan and her study correlating exposure to “high” levels of phthalates in baby boys to a risk of reproductive abnormalities such as undescended testicles.

“There is no evidence whatsoever that exposure to trace-levels of chemicals has anything to do with puberty,” says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. “The age of menarche has been going down for quite some time because of better nutrition and the increasing incidence of obesity. We have not experienced any increased exposure to chemicals since 1997, which is when the article alleges the trend began. The so-called hormone-like environmental chemicals have hormonal effects that are somewhere between one-thousandth and one-millionth those of our own natural estrogens, and less even than the ‘phytoestrogens’ in soy products. Phthalates and plasticizers are decades old; their use can’t explain the onset of early puberty in the last decade. I think USA Today would better serve its readers by avoiding such scare stories, and instead, tell them about the simple child-safety measures we discussed in this Dispatch edition.”