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From October 24, 2006                                                                                                        

EPA Fails To Meet Mandate on Endocrine-Disruptors
(Beyond Pesticides, October 24, 2006)
Recent discoveries of feminized fish in the Potomac River and other water bodies is refocusing attention on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decade-long delay in developing testing protocols. Ten years after Congress ordered EPA to develop tests to determine if pesticides and other chemicals could be disrupting human hormone functions, no chemical has been tested under the program.

The 1996 Food Quality Protection Act set a 1999 deadline for EPA to develop a battery of assays with which pesticide manufacturers will be required to screen their products as possible endocrine (hormonal) disrupters, similar to tests required to determine whether chemicals cause cancer, birth defects, genetic mutations, or other problems. EPA has repeatedly pushed back the deadline and now says it will be 2008 before it finalizes a set of tests.

Since the publication of the book Our Stolen Future in 1996, world-wide attention has been brought to scientific discoveries about endocrine disruption in wildlife and humans, and the fact that low-levels of exposure to common contaminants can interfere with the natural signals controlling development of the fetus and other hormonal functions. Research links the presence of endocrine disruptors to reproductive disorders, alterations in neurodevelopment, cancer, immune suppression and other adverse health endpoints. For example, genital deformities are associated with endocrine disrupting chemicals in alligators and endangered panthers in Florida, polar bears in Alaska, river otters in Oregon, barn swallows in Louisiana, loons in Maine and other species.

Meanwhile, the recent discovery of egg-forming tissue in the testicles of male bass in the Potomac River and other waterways has raised new fears that endocrine disrupting chemicals are becoming more common in the environment.

A 2002 report entitled Endocrine Disruption in Fish, An Assessment of Recent Research and Results by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) states, “Overt endocrine disruption in fish does not appear to be a ubiquitous environmental phenomenon, but rather more likely to occur near sewage treatment plants, pulp and paper mills, and in areas of high organic chemical contamination. However, more widespread endocrine disruption can occur in rivers with smaller flows and correspondingly large or numerous wastewater inputs.”

President Bush has proposed cutting the agency's budget for the endocrine disrupter program, leading to questions about whether even the 2008 deadline can be met. "This has been a fairly Herculean effort," said Lawrence Reiter, director of EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory. He and other EPA officials say the tests ordered by Congress have to be developed from scratch, a project the agency finds challenging.

However, frustrated environmental activists say there is no excuse for the delay. "It is inexcusable that the EPA has not yet gotten this basic screening program into place 10 years after it was mandated by Congress," Erik Olson, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told a House committee this month at a hearing on the Potomac’s intersex bass.

Although the 1996 law specifically directs EPA to establish the screening tests for pesticides, some scientists say thousands of other chemicals may be causing subtle endocrine effects as well, including pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter drugs. NOAA’s report states, “the number of compounds identified as suspected or confirmed endocrine disrupters has increased substantially and includes industrial intermediates, such as 4-nonylphenol, bisphenol-A, and the phthalate ester plasticizers, as well as classic contaminants such as the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, certain pesticides, and even a number of trace elements.”

Despite the slow progress of EPA's Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has moved to identify potential endocrine disrupters in water supplies and wildlife. It was USGS that found the intersex bass in the Potomac, some of which swim within a mile of EPA's national headquarters.

Sources: Austin American-Statesman, Our Stolen Future

TAKE ACTION: Write to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, and let him know how important it is for EPA to expedite the development of endocrine disruption assays. Also, write to your Senators and Members of Congress and ask them to continue putting pressure on EPA to fulfill their congressional mandate to develop these tests.