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Chemicals of Emerging Concern in Food - Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

Chemicals of Emerging Concern in Food -

Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals


(CMA Testing and Certification Laboratories)

What are Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals?

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are naturally occurring or man-made chemicals that can interfere with hormone systems and lead to harmful effects on health.

Animal studies found that adverse health effects on body's development, growth, reproduction, metabolism, immunity and/or behavior occur after exposure to EDCs. In human, the most well-known endocrine disruptor should be diethylstilbestrol (DES), a synthetic hormone which was once widely used to prevent miscarriage but banned since 1970s because it could lead to developmental abnormalities and cancers in daughters of women treated with the hormone during pregnancy.

WHO, 2013

According to the World Health Organization, at least 800 chemicals are known or suspected to be endocrine disruptors. Below are some well-known examples of man-made chemicals and by-products with hormonal activity.

In addition, some naturally occurring heavy metals e.g. cadmium, mercury and lead can also be classified as endocrine disruptors.

Why are EDCs Found in Food?

Man-made chemicals capable of interfering with hormone receptors, hormone synthesis or hormone conversions are used in various industrial and service sectors, and released into the environment (soil, water and air) after use, through industrial and urban discharges, agricultural run-off and the burning and release of waste.

These endocrine disrupting chemicals, together with naturally occurring heavy metals, can pass along the food web to crops / animals growing in a contaminated environment, and then accumulate inside the bodies of animals and human at higher trophic levels.

In addition, some EDCs (e.g. bisphenol A) have been used in food contact materials. They can directly migrate to the food and water in contact.

WHO, 2013

Chemicals of Emerging Concerns

Many countries are increasingly worried about the presence of EDCs in food, because many EDCs are previously unknown or not well-studied, therefore no legal tolerance levels have been set to determine the acceptable concentrations of those EDCs in food.

Given the fact that animal studies demonstrated that some EDCs can be toxic and even carcinogenic, countries like EU has already identified and phased out the use of endocrine disruptors of very high concern (e.g. prohibited use in food contact materials, industrial chemicals, plant protection products and biocides, etc.) and established tolerance levels for those high risk EDCs.

However, there are still lots of EDCs which have not been assessed yet. Regulatory authorities and scientists in different countries are making effort to find out the levels of those chemicals in food, their potential toxic effects, human exposure and then assess the potential health risks.

Analytical Techniques to Determine EDC

Sensitive analytical methods are required to detect EDCs because they usually present in food at a very low level (e.g. at ng/kg). Chemical test methods (e.g. chromatographic method using GC-MS/MS or LC-MS/MS) are widely used to identify and quantify endocrine disruptors. On the other hand, biological methods (e.g. ELISA, biosensor) are also frequently used as screening tools to find out potential toxicants and their toxicities.