Exposure to some of these compounds can lead to hormonal, metabolic and reproductive problems in humans.

Photo by: Jorge Cervera Hauser

Photo by: Jorge Cervera Hauser


“We have the opportunity to work out how to live sustainably on this planet. We have all of the tools and the technology to make that happen. It’s simply a shift in thinking to change the world.”

– Emily Penn


The chemical compounds that we put out into the world come back to us in invisible yet very real ways. They are used in thousands of consumer goods such as cleaning products, cosmetics, and plastics. Studies have shown that exposure to some of these compounds can lead to hormonal, metabolic and reproductive problems in humans, including low sperm count and abnormal development of reproductive organs. Although several have already been banned either by individual countries or globally, many chemicals that fall under the category of endocrine disruptors are still on the market and inside our bodies.

A few years back, plastic pollution pioneer and Parley ambassador Emily Penn tested her blood specifically for chemicals banned by the United Nations. Out of 35 banned chemicals, Emily’s blood contained 29. These included traces of pesticides and flame retardants, which are especially concerning in terms of women’s health. Endocrine disruptors mimic hormones that can impact women’s pregnancies and be passed onto offspring through childbirth and breastfeeding.

Several of these chemical compounds have now been found in bottlenose dolphins, as mentioned in our last issue of State of the Oceans. Scientists in Sarasota Bay, Florida, found that 71% of resident dolphins tested between 2016 and 2017 showed elevated concentrations of chemicals in their urine. The fact that the accumulation of these is comparable to those detected in people was surprising to researchers due to that humans presumably come into more regular contact with the objects that contain these chemicals.

The next step in the research will be to figure out the source of dolphin exposure, which remains unclear. However, samples indicated elevated levels of a specific phthalate compound that is most commonly added to plastics. Hinting to plastic waste as a possible source of exposure for dolphins.