Reducing Your Exposure: Avoiding Hormone Disruptors

What Are Hormone Disruptors?

Scientists believe that many synthetic chemicals act as endocrine disruptors, or hormone disruptors, interfering with our bodies’ natural hormone systems and causing a wide array of health problems.  Hormone disruptors often act by imitating our natural hormones. Our bodies are “fooled” by these toxins, which can bind to the same sites to which natural hormones bind, thereby altering, magnifying or blocking the function of the natural hormones.

One hormone often imitated by toxins is estrogen. Toxins that imitate estrogen are called xenoestrogens and may be linked to high rates of breast cancer, endometriosis and other reproductive problems in women and decreased sperm counts, prostate and testicular cancer in men. Research shows that other health problems which are on the rise, such as thyroid disorders, diabetes and behavioral abnormalities in children, may also be linked to chemicals interefering with our hormones.

How can we reduce our exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals? One of the best ways is to educate ourselves on which products contain these chemicals and find safe alternatives. We can also act in our communities to reduce the levels of harmful chemicals in our homes, schools, parks and workplaces.



Many pesticides contain chemicals known to have hormone disrupting effects and are used in lawns, gardens, food crops and on pets to control unwanted pests. To reduce your exposure:

• buy food grown locally and in season, organic if possible
• peel non-organic fruits and vegetables
• avoid pesticide use; use non-toxic alternatives
• avoid areas freshly sprayed with pesticides
• join the Wisconsin Pesticide Registry to find out when commercial lawncare services
spray in your neighborhood


Many organochlorines, or compounds which contain chlorine and carbon, do not easily breakdown in the environment and accumulate to high concentrations in the fat of humans and animals. Many organochlorines are hormone disruptors.
Organochlorines often are produced as byproducts of industrial processes involving chlorine, organic matter and heat – such as bleached paper-making, burning of hazardous, municipal & medical waste, and chemical production.  They are also found in pesticides, pharmaceuticals, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic and more. To reduce your exposure:

    • eat lower on the food chain
    • follow local fish consumption guidelines
    • avoid pesticides
    • avoid using PVC and other plastic products
    • choose chlorine-free products and unbleached paper products



Plastics may contain two chemicals considered to be hormone disruptors—bisphenol A and phthalates. Phthalates are used to soften plastics and bisphenol A is a key ingredient in certain types of hard plastics.  Bisphenol A is also found in some dental sealants. To reduce your exposure:

• heat food in ceramic or glass in the microwave; never in plastic
• avoid plastic cling wrap or eliminate its direct contact with food
• give children natural materials (wood, cloth, etc.) to play with and chew on instead of plastic
• avoid dental materials with bisphenol A
• reduce your use of plastics in general; use glass containers, wax paper, etc.

Heavy Metals

Lead is used in glazes, lead crystal, brass plumbing fixtures, solder, food cans, lead batteries and as a stabilizer for PVC plastics. Dust from lead-based paint settles on window sills and other surfaces. Soil may be contaminated by leaded gasoline. To reduce your exposure to lead:

• wash your hands (and your children’s hands) often, and always before eating
• remove dust with a moist rag regularly, especially on windowsills
• wash children’s toys regularly
• heat cold water instead of using hot tap water for cooking
• run cold (not hot) water taps for a few minutes after long periods of disuse to flush out lead-contaminated water
• remove vinyl (PVC) blinds
• get your soil tested for lead, especially where kids play and vegetables are grown
• consult renovation experts or your local health department on proper
removal of lead paint

Mercury is used in the production of chlorine, button-type batteries, fluorescent lights, pesticides, thermometers, polyurethane and more. Most dental fillings are mercury amalgam. More than half of all cadmium is used in rechargeable batteries. It is also used as a stabilizer in plastics. Mercury and cadmium, released by fossil fuels during combustion, end up in the air, water and soil. To reduce your exposure to mercury and cadmium:

• follow local fish consumption guidelines
• ask your dentist for porcelain, gold, or composite fillings instead of mercury amalgam
• minimize car and energy use; walk, bicycle, bus or car pool instead
• properly dispose of all dead batteries as hazardous wasteLead, mercury and cadmium have hormone disrupting effects.


Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) are a class of chemicals which are hormone disruptors. They are commonly used as detergents in many industrial processes (including the production of oil, pulp & paper, synthetic and natural textiles and leather) and common household products. They are used as additives in latex paints and cosmetics, as anti-oxidants and stabilizers in some plastics and in some pesticides. Nonoxynol-9, a form of NPEs, is the active ingredient in contraceptive spermicides. To reduce exposure:

• avoid specialty “super-strength” cleaners
• avoid pesticides
• minimize car and energy use to reduce oil production

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