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From June 24, 2005

European Scientists Call For Regulation Of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals
(Beyond Pesticides, June 24, 2005)
On Monday, scientists called on European leaders to take action to speed up and tighten the regulation of thousands of gender-bending chemicals used across the continent, reports the Guardian Unlimited. The Prague Declaration on Endocrine Disruption, named after a meeting of more than 100 toxicologists and chemists in Czech Republic last month, calls for stricter legislation on the safe use of chemicals, a more comprehensive framework for the testing of chemicals, and adoption of the precautionary principle when regulating endocrine disrupting chemicals. The scientists were members of the Cluster of Research into Endocrine Disruption in Europe (CREDO).

Endocrine disrupters are a diverse group of several thousands of chemicals including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins that are used in everything from pesticides and flame retardants to cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Endocrine disruptors may be mistaken for hormones by the body and thus their presence may alter the function of hormones, either blocking their normal action or interfering with how they are made in the body. Since hormones regulate things like growth and body development, there is great potential for damage. In particular, some endocrine disruptors are mistaken for the female hormone estrogen. These estrogen mimics interfere with the reproductive system, causing infertility, malformed sexual organs, and cancer of sensitive organs.

Disturbingly, there are many commonly used pesticides that are known or suspected endocrine disrupters, such as atrazine, 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. Another recent study found that the endocrine disrupting effects of pesticides can be passed down through generations.

The harmful effects of endocrine disrupters have been a growing concern among scientists and activists in recent years, but Monday's move is the first time the scientific community has raised its concerns with politicians and the public at large.

The environmental effects of these chemicals has 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 endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the environment. "Wildlife provides early warnings of effects produced by endocrine disrupters, which may as yet be unobserved in humans," the declaration says.

Scientists have long suspected that the presence of these chemicals is also responsible for the high prevalence of fertility problems in European men, and for the rise in the number of breast and testicular cancers. Last month, scientists confirmed this fear with evidence that phthalates, a class of chemicals used in plastics, may harm the development of unborn baby boys. Researchers had known for some time that high levels of these chemicals were harmful, but the latest study suggests that even normal levels - those commonly found in toys, plastic bags and plastic wrap- could disrupt the development of male reproductive organs.

Forthcoming EU legislation on the safety of chemicals, known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) does have some clauses on endocrine disrupters, but CREDO scientists are concerned that the proposals do not go far enough. They said that while the EU has invested money into finding out how endocrine disrupters harm animals and plants, there has been little thought on what to do with the results. They also criticized REACH for having overly high standards in identifying endocrine-disrupting compounds.

A list of pesticides that are known, probable, and suspected endocrine disrupters from the US EPA is available at http://www.epa.gov/osa/spc/htm/Endoqs.htm.

TAKE ACTION: Write the U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson urging EPA to initiate an urgent and expedited review of pesticides' link to endocrine disruption.