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Endocrine Disruptors: Emerging Chemicals of Concern

By Everett & Associates on Oct 22, 2013 at 03:31 PM in Environmental Issues

A number of synthetic chemicals are now known to mimic hormones in living organisms. When these chemicals are released to the environment—even at very small concentrations--they appear to affect animals and humans. Male frogs are found with female organs and in one Florida lake contaminated with a widely-used herbicide, male alligators have a high incidence of genital deformities, thus hampering their ability to reproduce. There is also growing evidence linking this class of chemicals to human health effects such as infertility, low sperm counts and even breast cancer.

In a forceful statement in the scientific journal, Endocrinology, (“Policy decisions on endocrine disruptors should be based on Science across Disciplines: A response to Dietrich et al.”) a prominent group of scientists and physicians concluded that the evidence is “undeniable: that endocrine-disrupting chemicals pose a threat to human health,” especially to fetuses and infants. Further, they note that thousands of published studies have indicated health effects on wildlife and laboratory animals and point to the recent United Nations Environment Programme and World Health Organization assessment of the state of the science of endocrine disruptors, confirming that there is ample cause for concern. Another group of researchers issued a similar call to action earlier this year in a Commentary in the journal, Environmental Health. These editorials were in response to a statement signed by a group of toxicologists calling for “common sense” and arguing against efforts in Europe to regulate releases of these chemicals to the environment (“Scientifically unfounded precaution drives European Commission’s recommendations on EDC regulation, while defying common sense, well-established science and risk assessment principles,” Dietrich, et al., Toxicology Research, 2013).

A recent opinion piece in The New York Times drew parallels between the current endocrine disruptor debate and past controversies over lead-based paint and tobacco: suggesting that lobbying efforts and manipulation of the scientific enterprise allow powerful corporate interests to create a sense of uncertainty even when little uncertainty exists among mainstream researchers.

Will EPA and European environmental agencies regulate endocrine disruptors in our water and other forms of exposure? Will environmental scientists and remediation engineers be looking for ways to clean up waterways impacted with endocrine disruptors? It seems inevitable that these chemicals will be more tightly regulated in the future to reduce our exposure and minimize effects on human health and the environment; although it will likely be a long and controversial process. As with many of the environmental issues we deal with here at L. Everett & Associates, the debate over endocrine disruptors lies at the intersection of science, law and policy. As head of the Pollution Panel of the World Federation of Scientists, Dr. Everett has co-chaired several international panels on endocrine disruptors at the annual World Federation meetings in Italy. This involvement allows us to stay at the forefront of this evolving issue.