Endocrine disruptors in everyday products may trigger early puberty

Some doctors worry that children as young as preschool age are facing a higher risk of early-onset puberty — including breast growth and pubic-hair development — due to the increasing prevalence of certain cosmetics, prescription drugs, and environmental contaminants containing endocrine disruptors or hormones. In rare cases, clusters of young children have been found to be experiencing signs of puberty, and some of these outbreaks have been linked to accidental exposures to estrogen, testosterone, and other chemicals in pharmaceutical and personal-care products like shampoos and skin creams. Some flame retardants and phthalates have also been associated with early puberty. In 1996, Congress directed the U.S. EPA to develop a comprehensive screening program for endocrine disruptors within three years, but it has yet to get off the ground. Robert Cooper of EPA’s reproductive toxicology division blames the delay on stonewalling by chemical industry reps on an advisory committee for the program.