EDCs found in water

waterA 200-page report on Endocrine Disrupting compounds (EDCs) released by the UN earlier this week has highlighted environmental and health risks facing many countries including South Africa.

The compounds have the potential to cause wide ranging health complications including breast cancer in women, prostate cancer, attention deficit and hyperactivity in children, as well as thyroid cancer.

According to Professor Edmund Pool, University of the Western Cape expert on EDCs, sewage treatment plants do not remove all the compounds.

“All the sewage treatment plants I’ve tested in the Western Cape were found to remove 80% of hormones, the untreated 20% has been shown to be able to change the morphology and sex ratios of some animals like fishes, frogs, and crabs,” he told News24.

Pool said EDCs eventually make its way back into the ecosystem when “treated” water is discharged into the sea and rivers. Threats to humans emerge when the compounds enter the food chain through vegetables (and often fish) via irrigation with toxic water.

“EDCs eventually get lodged in humans’ body tissues, more concerning is that it can sit in the reproductive organs where it is carried over to offspring,” Pool said.

Health effects

The UN report, State of Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals 2012, describes EDCs as “…a mixture that alters functions of the endocrine system and consequently causes adverse health effects in an intact organism, or its progeny”.

Bettina Genthe, senior researcher in human health aspects of water at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), said that thousands of chemicals like pesticides, industrial chemicals, and plasticisers contain endocrine disruptors.

“Even metals like cadmium, arsenic, lead, mercury, and aluminium have been shown to have an effect,” she told News24.

No protection for SA citizens

Both Genthe and Pool have highlighted the fact that no South African legislation exists to protect citizens from EDCs.

The only protection is broadly stated in Chapter 2 of South Africa’s Bill of Rights.

The Bill states that “everyone has the right to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation”.

Department of Water Affairs was not available for comment by the time of publication.


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