Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were phased out of use decades ago, but they remain environmentally persistent and can still be found in people’s blood. PCBs have also been shown to disrupt endocrine signaling, leading to their classification as endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs).
Praedicat has profiled several other EDCs that have become widely known: bisphenol A, phthalates, tributyltin, polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants, and more. A hypothesis that’s been gaining attention over the last few years is that in addition to the effects of EDCs on the people who ingest them, they can also affect their children and even grandchildren and beyond. An exposure that can manifest as harm to grandchildren and beyond is called transgenerational.
Research on transgenerational effects is still in its infancy, but results akin to those in the linked study are common. A fetus’s exposure to EDCs while in utero can alter gene expression, metabolic parameters, and even behaviour several generations down the line. It is not yet known whether these results will transfer to humans, but initial research into the daughters and granddaughters of women who took diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant suggests that they may have increased risk of various cancers.
In general, tort law does not support the notion that a party owes a duty to a person who wasn’t even conceived, making transgenerational claims difficult to pursue. Nevertheless, grandchildren of DES have filed lawsuits and received settlements for their health claims, although to our knowledge none have gone to trial. What might this mean for the “long tail” risk of EDCs?
These results showing transgenerational effects of EDCs have implications for humans, as we are now in the 3rd generation since the Chemical Revolution of the mid-twentieth century, and even banned chemicals such as PCBs have a persistent imprint on the health of our descendants.