“The dose makes the poison” but also “drop by drop makes an ocean.” In Nepal, chemicals that disrupt the hormonal functions in humans may be circulating freely in the market for consumer goods – all due to a lack of regulation. If consistently consumed for a long period, the impact of these chemicals – even when found in relatively small doses in individual goods – could be adverse. Endocrine glands produce hormones that act in very small amounts, and small disruptions in those levels may cause significant developmental effects. The human body is dependent on hormones for a healthy endocrine system, which controls many biological processes like normal growth, fertility, and reproduction. Endocrine Society states that there are nearly 85,000 human-made chemicals in the world, and 1,000 or more of those could be endocrine disruptors, based on their unique properties.

According to a publication by Maastricht University, “Endocrine disruptors, also called endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), are at the center stage of a scientific and regulatory controversy. Chemicals shown to have endocrine-disrupting effects have mostly been made by humans. They were originally engineered to produce benefits most importantly – but not exclusively – for industry and agriculture, households and consumers, as well as for medical and personal health care.” The growing scientific evidence on the negative effects of EDCs on health and the environment caused debate about the identification and regulation of EDCs within the European Union (EU). The EU is planning to ban the first endocrine-disrupting pesticides (EDP) in 2023.

Parabens are a group of chemicals that are widely used as preservatives in cosmetics and personal care products such as deodorants, shower gels, and body creams. They effectively prevent the growth of microorganisms. The European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety states, “The main concern regarding parabens in cosmetics is the potential of some of them to act like hormones in the body, in particular estrogens – the female sex hormone.” Another EDC, triclocarban (TCC), is an antibacterial chemical used in personal care products like soaps and lotions. In September 2017, the FDA in the United States banned triclocarban, triclosan and 17 other common antibacterial chemicals for their failure to be proven safe, or more effective than plain soap and water.

NIH in the United Kindom asserts that several studies have suggested exposure to certain endocrine disruptive chemicals (EDCs) alters thyroid function and is associated with an increased risk of numerous adverse health outcomes including developmental abnormalities, thyroid disorders, and various types of cancer. This concern is shared by Ram Charitra Sah, Environment Scientist and the Executive Director of the Center for Public Health and Environmental Development (CEPHED) – who also won the “First in Asia” award in 2022 for his contribution to making Nepal the first country in all of Asia to achieve mercury-free dentistry.

According to CEPHED, a high level (43.85 µg/g) of Butyl Paraben (BP) has been found in Kodomo baby toothpaste and 1039.3 µg/g of Methyl Paraben found in Kodomo kids’ mouthwash. Similarly, triclosan has been found in hand wash products (660.1 µg/g) and deodorants (1.11 µg/g). Triclocarban has been found in feminine wash (0.03 µg/g) and handwash (0.04 µg/g). These were among the 30 samples of products imported and sold in Nepal that were tested among a total of 362 samples from eight different countries. 116 of these were children’s products and 9 of these children’s products were sent from Nepal. Altogether 11 chemicals including nine types of Parabens, two Triclosan (TCS) and Triclocarban (TCC) and the most frequently used EDCs were analyzed. The samples in the test included eight major types of products such as anti-virus wipes, baby wipes, deodorants, toothpaste, body wash, feminine wash, hand wash, and mouthwash. Samples produced in Nepal were collected from supermarkets, departmental stores, and medical shops.

Aawaaj News reached out to Sah, who stated that Nepal so far has no regulations on the use of Parabens, Triclosan and Triclocarban. “Kids’ products contain Paraben and children in Nepal are at risk of EDCs found in their personal care products in addition to lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, phthalates, and BPA found in their toys. This is then added to the risk presented by high levels of lead paint used in houses and schools,” states Ram Charitra Sah. The regulation of such chemicals falls not only under the responsibility of the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP), but also of the Ministry of Forest and Environment (MoFE), Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies (MoICS), and their provincial ministries and associated departments.

EDCs can also affect the environment. UNEP affirms that “fish and amphibians take up potential EDCs directly from contaminated wastewater via their external surfaces such as gills and skin. Contaminated soil and sediments can affect the worms, snails, and insects eaten by birds and fish. Fish-eating mammals, such as otters, may be particularly vulnerable to EDCs since chemicals that they absorb can accumulate in the fish tissue and increase in concentration at the top of the food chain, and they tend to live in rivers and lakes close to farmlands and industrial sites. Birds and reptiles may be affected as their egg composition can contain contaminants that embryos are exposed to while they develop.”

The potentially adverse effects from these carcinogenic chemicals need to be addressed. Children’s exposure to them is particularly concerning. The amount of research published globally within a single year has exponentially increased in the past decades; from just 4 research articles in 1995 to 708 in 2014 – and the end of 2014 was nearly a decade ago. Nepal is behind schedule on banning or even regulating these chemicals. The best time to act was ten years ago. The second-best time is now.