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Noted Scientist Says EPA Tests for Endocrine Disruption Outdated

(Beyond Pesticides, April 29, 2009) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced earlier this month that it is finally ready to move forward with preliminary testing of 67 active and inert pesticide ingredients for possible endocrine disrupting effects. But, according to prominent researcher and author Theo Colborn, PhD, these tests are outdated, insensitive, crude, and narrowly limited, and will fail to detect many serious effects on human development.

In an eye-opening opinion-editorial published in Environmental Health News, Dr. Colborn, founder and president of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, and Co-author of Stolen Future, says that EPA’s testing protocol is “a pitiful skeleton” of what it needs to be. The tests to be used by EPA were first recommended in 1998. Since then the science has made progress and become more sophisticated. Current research is based on different assumptions than the toxicological assumptions that first drove the EPA test designs. However, EPA has not updated its protocol. Each of EPA’s tests and assays was designed under the surveillance of corporate lawyers who had bottom lines to protect and assorted toxicologists who were not trained in endocrinology and developmental biology. For over a decade, EPA ignored the vast wealth of information on endocrine disruption from independent academic researchers funded by the U.S. and other governments in Europe and Asia. Most important, because of the limited scope of its test battery, EPA is not in a position to address endocrine-related disorders that pose a threat to every child born today, according to Dr. Colborn.

The methodology undertaken to develop EPA’s endocrine disruption screening and test protocols also illustrate political and corporate interference that continue to plague the agency’s decision making process. After being tasked to screen chemicals for endocrine disruptive activity under the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996, EPA set up the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program including a committee with members representing the industries to be regulated, toxicologists, and a few token representatives from non-profit organizations. According to Dr. Colborn, the scientists who discovered endocrine disruption and the hundreds of others, most of whom were not toxicologists and had shifted their research focus to the connections between a mother and her embryo and fetus, were not invited to participate. EPA tried to use traditional toxicology protocols, ignoring that these had failed miserably and allowed endocrine disruptors to get through the government’s programs to protect public health. EPA ignored and continues to ignore the growing knowledge about endocrine disruption, and trade associations representing corporations with deep pockets denied it. Consequently, EPA continues to struggle along under the false assumptions that ‘the dose makes the poison’ and that high dose testing is sufficient to detect any chemical that can interfere with endocrine control of development and function.

Hundreds of scientific articles have been published across the globe demonstrating how a broad selection of chemicals can interfere with the normal development of a baby at extremely low levels of exposure. Scientists discovered effects for some widely used chemicals at concentrations thousands of times less than federal “safe” levels of exposure derived through traditional toxicological tests. One example, cites Dr. Colborn, is that of atrazine. Atrazine is a herbicide most frequently found in surface and drinking waters in the U.S. It is linked to a host of adverse health effects including endocrine disruption, which has been well documented in frogs and other laboratory animals. Atrazine is already listed on the Colborn List as an endocrine disruptor and has been recognized in the European Union (EU) as a category 1 (evidence of endocrine disrupting activity in at least one species) endocrine disruptor. (The Colborn List and the EU have already tested many chemicals for endocrine disruption, while the U.S. has yet to finalize a protocol for screening.)

Dr. Colborn is concerned that under EPA’s protocol atrazine will likely pass the battery of tests with flying colors even though it has been shown to feminize male organisms by turning on the enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen. Dr. Colborn states that EPA is proposing an assay to detect chemicals that can block that enzyme, but it cannot detect chemicals that turn it on. EPA’s protocol will also not detect chemicals that can alter development and function of the pancreas, and its hormone, insulin, which could lead to diabetes and obesity. It also will not detect chemicals that alter how the brain is constructed and programmed that can undermine intelligence and behavior.

Dr. Colborn recommends that scientists, who have proven that they can think outside the box and inside the womb, be given the opportunity and wherewithal to design comprehensive, multi-organ assays to detect the most sensitive alterations in embryonic and fetal development and function, especially in light of the new administration’s willingness to put science first.

For an overview of endocrine disruptors, view Beyond Pesticides’ article, “Pesticides that Disrupt Endocrine System Still Unregulated by EPA.” Also visit Dr. Colborn’s Our Stolen Future and the EU’s endocrine disrupters website for more on endocrine disruptive chemicals.

Source: Environmental Health News


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