Summary

In this article we have outlined evidence from diverse sources indicating that a variety of manmade compounds can interfere with development and subsequent functioning of the reproductive system in humans. The concordance of animal and human data, where the latter are available, indicates that when human data are not available health standards should be guided by animal research on a precautionary basis. It will be decades, at best, before epidemiological science is capable of thoroughly documenting the health impacts of even a small number of the contaminants to which humans are exposed daily.

Many of the chemicals of concern were produced to improve human welfare and provide economic benefit (e.g., to increase crop production or to protect food from metal in food cans). This new science, however, is now revealing many unexpected adverse consequences, resulting from the ability of very low levels of these compounds to interfere with gene activation. Most of the chemicals now implicated were subject to little if any rigorous testing; those that were tested were found 'safe' (using criteria now known to miss important risks) and allowed to enter the marketplace. Now we are discovering their 'stealth' characteristics only long after widespread exposure has occurred.

Because of their 'stealth' nature, we are currently unprepared to detect the effects of EDCs or defend against them. Many are persistent; they cannot be removed; they are globally distributed through our atmosphere, our seas and wildlife. Others, while not persistent, should be treated as persistent because of their chronic and ubiquitous use. They act at a population level and many have the potential to (individually or cumulatively) affect future generations (e.g., by decreasing fertility, feminizing males or reducing intelligence). All these endpoints have been produced in the laboratory and many have been observed in wildlife. New data, which must be confirmed by further study, suggest that comparable changes are being produced in human populations as well. Precaution dictates that we cannot wait for ''conclusive'' evidence of harm to wildlife or human populations to take action.

Chemical corporations and government agencies charged with regulating chemicals in the environment (air, soil, water, and food) assure the public that these chemicals are safe. Because of absence of data concerning risk (often confused with evidence of an absence of risk) and the use of conservative models no longer supported by recent data, the public remains ignorant of the risk potential of the vast majority of chemicals. The public is routinely informed that these chemicals have been tested, that there are studies demonstrating the absence of their risk, and that regulatory agencies adequately protect public health.

Clearly significant changes are needed to bring current regulatory practices into conformity with new scientific information. We propose that testing for health effects at doses within the range of exposure of wildlife and humans (currently not done) with respect to long-latency effects of developmental exposure throughout the lifespan (currently not done) be required prior to the introduction of any chemical intended for use in commerce.

See also: Endocrine Disruptors: effect in Wildlife and Laboratory Animals; Endocrine Disruptor Chemicals: Overview.

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