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WHO Reports That Chemical-Related Damage to Wildlife Supports Concern for Human Health
(from August 14, 2002)

World Wildlife Fund is calling for stricter controls on dangerous hormone-disrupting chemicals after a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other United Nation agencies concludes that damage to wildlife substantiates concerns for human health. The WHO report, "Global Assessment of the State-of-the-Science of Endocrine Disruptors," recognizes the strong plausibility that adverse trends in human health are linked to these chemicals.

Many common household products like pesticides (including 2,4-D, lindane, atrazine), electrical goods, plastic food and drink containers, cleaning compounds, cosmetics, and perfumes contain endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that interfere with the function of the body's naturally occurring hormones. These substances disrupt reproductive and early developmental processes--particularly in offspring exposed in the womb or in the egg.

Since the 1970s, incidence of childhood cancers, learning disabilities, autism, diabetes, early puberty, and abnormal penile development has increased substantially. At the same time, evidence linking these disorders with exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals has continued to mount. The WHO report acknowledges that the changes in human health trends in some areas are sufficient to warrant concern and make this area a high research priority.

The WHO report details a variety of effects in wildlife which have been linked to exposure to chemicals with hormone disrupting properties--including imposex in mollusk species (e.g. where female whelk grow penises), intersex in fish (where males produce eggs or ovarian tissue in the testis), reduced phallus size in male alligators, behavioral problems in birds, and compromised immune and reproductive systems in mammals.

WWF is urging governments to take a precautionary approach to EDCs as evidence of effects are often measurable long before a direct cause and effect is established. For example, there was a raft of evidence linking cigarette smoke to cancer decades before a causal mechanism was put forward. Similarly, action was taken against DDT before scientists could prove how the pesticide caused eggshell thinning in birds.

"WWF and WHO's expert panel agree that there is ample evidence of the chemical threats to wildlife and the worrisome links to human health effects," said Dr. Theo Colborn, director of WWF's Wildlife and Contaminants Program. "We owe it to our children and to wildlife to act now to eliminate exposure to synthetic hormone disrupting chemicals."

See WWF's Analysis of the State-of-the Science report at http://www.wwfus.org/toxics/whatsnew/index.htm. The WHO report is available at http://www.who.int/pcs/pcs_new.html. For further information, contact Tina Skaar at 202-778-9606 or tina.skaar@wwfus.org.

Source: World Wildlife Fund