(Beyond Pesticides, December 21, 2009) Earlier this month, Congressman Jim Moran of Northern Virginia and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts introduced legislation to explore linkages between hormone disrupting chemicals in the environment and everyday products and the dramatic increase of autism, hyperactivity, diabetes, obesity, breast cancer, prostate cancer and other hormone related disorders. After the identification of endocrine disruptors, the legislation requires federal agencies with regulatory authority to report to Congress on the action it plans to take.
For years, scientists have noted strange anomalies in fish and wildlife in locations where endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are found. A recent study found that an astounding 100 percent of small mouth bass in certain sites of the Potomac River basin have exhibited both male and female organs, a characteristic linked to EDCs. According to a 2009 study by the U.S. Geologic Survey, the occurrence of “intersex” fish is now found to be nationwide.
“These fish are the proverbial ”˜canaries in the coal mine,’ a symptom of a larger sickness in our environment. The implications for humans are real and deeply troubling,” said U.S. Representative Moran, who worked with experts for roughly a year to craft the legislation.
“We need facts driven by science, not politics, ideology, or powerful interests, when it comes to understanding the risks associated with chemicals – especially where there’s real concern about harmful developmental disorders in children,” Senator Kerry said after introducing the companion bill in the Senate. “The better we understand these chemicals, the better equipped we’ll be to protect kids and the public.”
EDCs are thought to be harmful because they interfere with the body’s endocrine system where hormones are used to regulate human development, metabolism, growth, and reproduction. These man-made chemicals are used in everyday materials but appearing in increasing levels throughout the environment. “From laundry detergent to pesticides, from fire retardant clothing to plastic baby bottles, these products are potential vehicles for human exposure to EDCs whose long term health effects are unknown,” Rep. Moran said.
The Endocrine Disruption Prevention Act of 2009 [H.R. 4190] would facilitate the research necessary to determine whether these chemicals are affecting human health. Specifically, the act authorizes an ambitious new research program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to identify EDCs and establish an independent panel of scientists to oversee research and develop a prioritized list of chemicals for investigation. If the panel determines that a chemical presents even a minimal level of concern, it compels the federal agencies with established regulatory authority to report to Congress and propose next steps within six months.
The inadequacy of the current federal effort was highlighted this October, when the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled the first phase of tests to determine the presence of endocrine disrupting chemicals under an initiative mandated by Congress in 1996. Despite more than a decade’s time, the tests are limited to only a handful of pesticides and are based on science that many consider outdated.
“The new approach proposed by the Endocrine Disruption Prevention Act””including the creation of an independent task force of leading scientists””will improve existing government efforts so we can finally get the kind of timely, accurate, practical data we need to protect public health,” said Rep. Moran. “Under this bill, science, not politics and bureaucracy, will set the stage for regulatory action.”
According to Beyond Pesticides’ research, when intersex fish were first discovered in the Potomac River, the USGS identified: atrazine, a common herbicide used in agriculture and on lawns that is already linked to sexual abnormalities in frogs; insecticides chlorpyrifos and endosulfan; the herbicide metolachlor; and two chemicals used to add fragrance to perfumes, soaps and other products, tonalide and galaxolide. Disturbingly, there are more commonly used pesticides that are known or suspected endocrine disruptors, such as 2,4-D, lindane, and permethrin. A recent study found that the commonly used lawn pesticide formulation Round-up, with the active ingredient glyphosate, causes damaging endocrine effects in fetuses. EPA does not currently evaluate or consider the endocrine disrupting properties of pesticides during registration or reregistration.
The environmental effects of these endocrine disrupting chemicals have been well-established: pseudo-hermaphrodite polar bears with penis-like stumps, panthers with atrophied testicles, hermaphroditic deformities in frogs, and male trout with eggs growing in their testes have all been documented as the probable result of these chemicals in the environment. Many scientists believe that wildlife provides early warnings of effects produced by endocrine disruptors, which may as yet be unobserved in humans.
The Endocrine Disruption Prevention Act has been endorsed by The Endocrine Society, the world’s largest and most active professional organization of endocrinologists, representing over 14,000 members worldwide, and by over 160 independent scientists.
For more information on endocrine disrupting pesticides, see Beyond Pesticides’ article “Pesticides That Disrupt Endocrine System Still Unregulated By EPA” and Beyond Pesticides’ Daily News Blog on endocrine disruptors for the latest news and research.