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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Of Frogs and Boys…

For some, when reading the title for this week’s blog, the nursery rhyme “What Are Little Boys Made Of?” may have popped into your head and we all know the answer - Frogs and snails and puppy dogs tails, that’s what little boys are made of! Amazingly, two centuries after this rhyme was written, boys and frogs still have a lot in common.

In our previous posts we have discussed chemicals from a cleaning and killing point of view, and certainly what a product kills and how clean it makes a facility looks are two of the key decisions factors (especially in healthcare), however the review of a product’s safety profile is just as important. The investigation into a product’s occupational and safety profile can be quite detailed so for the purpose of this blog I am going to focus on a class of chemicals called endocrine disruptors as this is where the commonality between boys and frogs occurs.

All people are exposed to chemicals with estrogenic effects in their everyday life, because endocrine disrupting chemicals are found in low doses in literally thousands of products. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals in our environment that interfere with hormones —natural chemical messengers that travel in the bloodstream and regulate many important physiological activities in amphibians, animals and humans alike. Endocrine disruptors may be natural phytoestrogens (estrogen-like chemicals that are made by plants) or synthetic chemicals used in pesticides, medications, dietary supplements, cosmetics, soaps or detergents and commercial and consumer products. Some of the more recognizable chemicals include DDT, PCBs, phthalates, bisphenol A, and alkylphenols - all of which have hit the news at some point over the past 20 years as scientists have unveiled their role in polluting not just the environment, but our bodies as well. Any system in the body controlled by hormones, can be derailed by hormone disruptors.

Some of the first eerie signs of a potential health catastrophe came as bizarre deformities in water animals, often in their sexual organs. Frogs are bioindicators—they provide a window, if you will to the environmental health of our planet. Their permeable skin makes them especially vulnerable to environmental contaminants, particularly endocrine disruptors. Frogs are manifesting reproductive deformities and hormonal disorders, resulting from the toxic stew of chemicals that find their way into the water in which they live. A study done in Potomac River in 2000 found 80 percent of the male fish collected had become feminized and their sex organs were not producing sperm, likely as a result of the chemical pollution found in the river. Further studies have linked endocrine disruptors as the cause for frogs, salamanders and other amphibians to sprout extra legs.

Many of these compounds act as weak estrogen, so that’s why developing males — whether smallmouth bass or humans — tend to be more sensitive. In June 2009, the Endocrine Society, an organization of scientists specializing in this field, issued a landmark 50-page statement. “We present the evidence that endocrine disruptors have effects on male and female reproduction, breast development and cancer, prostate cancer, neuroendocrinology, thyroid, metabolism and obesity, and cardiovascular endocrinology.” The society further states that “The rise in the incidence in obesity matches the rise in the use and distribution of industrial chemicals that may be playing a role in generation of obesity.”

As endocrine disruptors are in the water we drink and are in dozens of commercial and consumer products we use every day, we have reason to be concerned. The next time you’re choosing a cleaning product ask yourself “What’s in this bottle?”

Next week we’ll continue our look into occupational health and safety profiles of chemicals with a discussion on volatile organic compounds.

Bugging Off!


  1. Great post Nicole! It's very difficult to avoid endocrine disruptors especially in children's products where it should be most regulated as their growing bodies are so much more at risk. Hope you don't mind me sharing your link with others...

  2. Nicole this is Karen Engelage from Beauty Solutions in Vancouver. Great Blog Nicole. We are always trying to educate our spas in regards to what products they are using for infection control and the environmental impact they have.

  3. Thanks for the comments and please share with family, friends and colleagues! We hope that the blog will grow into a community where everyone interested in talking about cleaning and disinfectant products will join in the discussion.