Endocrine Disruption and Environmental Health: Ten Years After Our Stolen Future
12:00 pm US Eastern Time
This call took place onWednesday, March 22 at 9:00 a.m. Pacific/ 12:00 noon Eastern time, and covered the present state of endocrine disruptors, ten years after the seminal book, Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Own Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival? - A Scientific Detective Story, was published.
Call Moderator: Steve Heilig, MPH, Director of Health
Featured Presentations from the authors of this groundbreaking book
- Theo Colborn, PhD, President, TEDX, Inc.
- Dianne Dumanoski, former reporter for the Boston Globe
- John Peterson Myers, PhD, CEO of Environmental Health Science
1. Introduction: Eleni Sotos, MA, CHE National Coordinator
Good morning, everyone. I'd like to welcome you to this call. My name is Eleni Sotos. I am the national coordinator of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment. Today’s teleconference is called Endocrine Disruption and Environmental Health—Ten Years After Our Stolen Future.
Moderating this call will be Steve Heilig. He is the Director of Public Health and Education at the San Francisco Medical Society, and the Collaborative on Health and the Environment. Please note that we have posted on our CHE website, some relevant articles and resources pertaining to today’s topic. If you'd like to view these resources, and you are at a computer, please go to www.HealthAndEnvironment.org. That is the CHE website.
Then, on the homepage, click on the first link under the "What’s New," section, on the left side of the screen. If you click on the link titled, "March 22nd—CHE Partnership Call," that will take you to a page that has background information and resources. Just click on that.
This call will last one hour. It is being recorded, and an MP3 audio file and transcript will be available on the website for download, over the coming weeks. I'd also like to announce that the April National Partnership Call has been scheduled. That date is Friday, April 28th at 9am PT, noon ET. The topic will focus on The Integrity of Science. More details on this call will be sent out via e-mail, over the coming weeks, to our CHE partners. I'd now like to turn the call over to Steve. Steve?
2. Welcome: Steve Heilig, MPH, Director of Public Health and Education Programs, SF Medical Society, CHE
Good morning, and good day, everybody. This is obviously a very popular call. And I'm not surprised, really. The idea for it came up about 6 months ago, when I was looking for a reference for an article that I was writing. I reached for a book called, "Our Stolen Future," which still has a great bibliography in it.
Then, putting together an issue of the medical society’s journal that all CHE partners will have access to, soon, on the various issues we're talking about… I asked the authors of, "Our Stolen Future," to write a brief essay called, "A Decade Later." That is one of the references that is available on the CHE website that Eleni mentioned. At the same time, we thought, "Well, we should see if we could get all 3 of them together for a call." And sure enough, it’s a very popular call.
The book itself is popular, too. How do you measure that? Nowadays, you can go to Google. So if you Google the phrase, "Our Stolen Future," as I did yesterday, we had 114,000 hits—and 780 of those before it starts to become redundant. Another way of measuring it is Amazon.com. Yesterday, it was number 17,916 in the popularity contest, there—just behind a very famous book called, "The Power of Positive Thinking," by Norman Vincent Peale—which has sold 7 million copies.
The speakers today asked me to do a very brief introduction to the book. I have a feeling many people here have read it. But, very briefly… In 1950, there was the first study in literature in a peculiar journal called, "The Proceedings if the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine," which indicated that DDT—the pesticide—exerted estrogen-like actions. A dozen or so years later, of course, in 1962, Rachel Carson’s book, "Silent Spring," came out. It mentioned this somewhat, but focused more on cancer and on effects on birds and wildlife. Then, a quarter century after that—10 years ago—"Our Stolen Future," OSF—as it’s known by many people. In the preface by then-Vice-President Al Gore, he called it a "Sequel to Silent Spring."
Why was this book so important? Why are we marking it, today? I would say there are 5 reasons. The first is that it provided a very good sensation of science and evidence, that the chemicals put into use following the explosion of use after WWII, were scrambling hormonal messages—and creating what the authors called, "Hormone Havoc." Which is actually the title of one of the chapters.
They used evidence from over 4,000 studies—mostly in animals. So there was mention of the effect in eagles, otters, goldfish, polar bears, whales, et ceterIt talks about the concept of bio-magnification, and then especially critiqued a long-standing paradigm of, "The dose equals the poisons." And they added the concept of developmental effects—especially in utero.
A quote from here is, "Hormone-disrupting chemicals are not classical poisons or typical carcinogens. They defy linear logic of concurrent testing protocols, built on the assumption that higher doses do more damage." Another reason is that they explored the evidence and implications for humans, and waded into some controversial territory, here. But they talked about DDT and DES, PCB, dioxin and the effects on things like sperm count, prostate and breast cancer—endometriosis, miscarriage and learning and developmental disabilities.
They moved beyond the cancer focus of previous views on chemicals, and really broadened it. To show that the impacts were not just on particular diseases, but could be functional in what they called, "Robbing human potential before birth."
A third important aspect was that they made a list of action recommendations in Chapter 12. It’s called, "Defending Ourselves." If you read those, you find that they are still valid and needed, and we hope to get a bit of a progress report on some of them, today.
Fourth—very important—this is what was called, "A Scientific Detective Story." They used real people—meaning some of the people on this call, and our speakers, to create what the Washington Post called, "An Environmental Thriller." This is very important. That’s why it’s on Amazon, still, I would say—at this point. Because it wasn’t a dry book. It’s a very fascinating read.
And last, but not least, from our perspective here—since this is a CHE call. If you look at the CHE consensus statement, you will see that the prospectus—the science there—underlined much of what we are doing. It is a part of the mission, and very much a part of the consensus statement of what we try to do.
So, we're going to have our speakers stay in the same order that they were, in the book—or listed on the book, anyway. Dr. Theo Colborn—the first chapter actually details the 7 years of synthesizing what was known. She is currently President of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, and has worked with the World Wildlife Funds and the US EPA, United Nations, National Research Council—and received, in 2004, the Rachel Carson Award from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
One fascinating thing about her—I think inspiring, really, is that she started grad school in this area at age 51—rather than going back to be a pharmacist, which she had been before. When I looked at Amazon, readers can put their own review on there—and the first Amazon review sounds like a star encounter. It’s called, "I Met Theo Colborn." This is from a woman who says, "At a nutrition conference, I sat down with my meal and an Nalgene water bottle. As I sat down, a woman I had seen speak earlier that day started out, 'Don’t drink out of that bottle!' I was quite taken aback, but her statement opened a long conversation about toxins and foods and containers. After saying goodbye, I read her book on the airplane. Even though it is a thick scientific book, I couldn’t put it down. For all who care about our future, this is a must-read book." So we start today with Dr. Colborn.
3. First Speaker: Dr. Theo Colborn, PhD, President, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX)
Well, I’ll have to find out who that lady was! First, I want to thank everyone at CHE for making this call possible. I can think of no better way to celebrate! But as I open the discussion today, I want to point out that the science in, "Our Stolen Future," ended in 1994. We were only able to squeeze in a few early-1995 citations before the book went to print.
Actually, the science in, "Our Stolen Future," is now 12 years old. Even so, by that time, the floodgates have already started to open on the release of new study after another about endocrine disruptions in the peer-reviewed literature. Today, it is almost impossible to keep up with the rate of new literature and activities such as meetings, seminars and teach-ins on a week-by-week basis, associated with endocrine disruptions.
Since the book came out 10 years ago, vast evidence has accumulated confirming that we are in far-deeper trouble than we ever anticipated while writing the book. "Our Stolen Future" definitely understated the problem. To get an idea about how endocrine disruption was discovered, let’s look back to 1988, eight years before OSF. Through a Canadian report listing 16 top predators in the Great Lake Basin that were suffering severe reproductive problems—even extirpation of some populations.
The report revealed that the declines were associated with improper development of the wildlife offspring, as the result of gestational damage either within the egg or the womb. Most of the adverse health endpoints reported in the animals were the result of disturbed endocrine functions. The extent of damage correlated with the increasing amounts of persistent organo-chlorine pollutants -- the high-profile chemicals at that time in the maternal animals.
It came as a shock to discover that traditional toxicological testing of chemicals had let vast numbers of synthetic chemicals through the regulatory safety net. And that no synthetic chemical had been tested for its effects on development and function before being released on the market. Then, in July 1991, a group of 21 scientists from 17 different disciplines were invited to spend a secluded weekend at the Wingspread Conference Center, Racine, Wisconsin, to discuss the topic of chemically induced alterations in sexual development—the Wildlife-Human Connection.
Something remarkable happened there, that led to the release of a consensus statement in September 1991—and a technical book in 1992. But very difficult for most people to understand. Nonetheless, that book lit a fire under academicians around the world—which started the flood of papers that were appearing in the peer literature as OSF went to the publisher. But, it also started a less-obvious but extremely well-funded flood of public-relations efforts and tactical planning by international cooperations and multinational trade associations to deny, lie, obfuscate and confuse policymakers, regulatory agency personnel and the public about endocrine disruptions—which continues to increase, today.
Then—in 1993—I was urged to write a book that everyone should understand. That was when I turned to Pete and Dianne and said, "Help me!" Unfortunately, it is impossible for me to be optimistic, as I sit here at TEDX with a database full of evidence that screams for attention. Because where do we turn, now, to say, "Help us?" Think about this. I sat on three EPA committees set up to design screens and assays to test chemicals for their endocrine-disrupting effects. Not once over those years was a discussion put on the table before the full committees from the academic community about their low-dose data and its implications in the endocrine feedback system. At no time was there a possibility of setting aside traditional toxicological dogmIt was like being in a room and given some delicate millwork to complete, and given a pair of pliers to do it.
There is now a terrible disconnect between the science being done on college campuses and the science being done in commercial labs, and by EPAnd there is also a terrible disconnect between what is being revealed on campuses with what is being used to determine public safety.
I should say, however, that my team and I rejoice over every new discovery about how the endocrine system functions and is perturbed. And of course, to the exciting announcement several weeks ago that with Environmental Working Group’s prodding, DuPont has announced that it will begin to reduce the production of the Teflon-class chemicals. But in that case, only one corporation and one class of chemicals had to be dealt with. In the case of endocrine disruptors, practically every major corporation in the world is either producing or using them.
We don’t have 100 environmental working groups. We have only a totally dysfunctional agency that after 10 years has not been able to offer up even one crude assay to detect endocrine disruption. Thank you. I’ll turn this over to Dianne.
Steve Heilig: I will introduce Dianne here, so people will know whom we're hearing from. I have a feeling—with no insult meant to the other 2 authors—that she may be most-responsible for the "thriller" aspect of the book, as a renowned environmental journalist dating back to Earth Day 1970 and a TV reporter and producer focusing on environmentalism. A writer for the Boston Phoenix and the Boston Globe. She’s been a Knight Fellow in science journals at MIT, and has talked at Yale, where she has a graduate degree, as well. So—Dianne?
4. Second Speaker: Dianne Dumanoski, Former Reporter, Boston Globe
Greetings. This anniversary is an ideal time to reflect on how well we've succeeded in communicating the complexities of endocrine disruption. I guess we did well on the "thriller" part, but how well did we put the ideas across?
"Our Stolen Future," aimed—above all—to put this new kind of chemical hazard on the map. On the day Theo, Pete and I sat down to talk about writing a book together, as Theo mentioned, there was already a book in print about endocrine disruption titled… and this takes a deep breath… "Chemically Induced Alterations in Sexual and Functional Development: The Human / Wildlife Connection." It was the work of scientists who had participated in the historic Wingspread conference, with each writing separate chapters from his or her disciplinary perspective. As its title suggests, it would never reach more than a very limited audience.
Our reasons for writing a second, popular book were remarkable similar to those that had inspired Rachel Carson to write, "Silent Spring," 3 decades earlier. In her book, Carson first raised the question of how synthetic chemicals are affecting human health. Our book not only continues this investigation—it finally explained how synthetic contaminants cause the kind of reproductive failure in birds and other animals that Carson had described.
Like "Silent Spring," "Our Stolen Future," is a book written for non-scientists. The power of "Silent Spring," came not only from Carson’s writing skill, but also from the fact that she took up a task that is largely neglected, in the fractured and specialized world of modern science - the vital job of synthesis. She gathered pieces of evidence scattered across a variety of scientific disciplines, identified telling patterns, and attempted to see the broader picture.
We had many of the same aims. We wanted to translate scientific information into more-accessible language. We hoped to synthesize evidence scattered across many scientific disciplines, and provide a more-coherent picture than the snapshots from different angles assembled in the scientific book. We wanted to warn about unrecognized risks. We wanted to challenge the current framework with thinking about chemical hazards. But most of all, we believe the emerging evidence about endocrine disruption raised serious and urgent questions that needed to be answered.
Chemicals that disrupt hormones and other chemical messages were an obscure phenomenon known at the time to only a small circle of scientists. We wanted to shine a spotlight on the problem, to get public attention, and to put the question on the public policy agendWe hoped public concern would translate into more money for research - the research needed to answer the questions and better-assess possible hazards. We hoped that more evidence, combined with public concern, would prompt regulations to remove compounds that sabotage development from production and from the environment.
So, looking back over the past decade, how much of this did we accomplish? As we were writing the book, I judged that it would either make a big splash or sink like a stone in the dark pool of remaindered books. "Our Stolen Future" did make that big splash. We were wildly successful in putting many of our concerns on the map, and getting press attention not only in the US but around the world.
But I was personally frustrated with the way reporters tended to handle the story. They often focused on one or two attention-getting symptoms. Declining sperm counts. Breast cancer. Gender bending and wildlife. Or types of hazards like plastics. More often than not, the stories stopped, there. They said little about the broader phenomenon. They addressed only pieces of the current coherent picture we tried so hard to present. With such an approach, Tyrone Hayes’ "Frog Work," for example, is reduced to unfortunate things happening to frogs because of atrazine, rather than an important piece of a much-larger puzzle.
"Our Stolen Future," as mentioned, was also a concerted effort to push the discussion of chemical hazards beyond cancer. I think we've been partially successful in this regard. It was positively maddening when reporters started to highlight possible connections between EDs and various cancers. Even though there was far-stronger evidence about disrupted development. But this was to be expected, since both journalists and editors were more comfortable with the old formula—"toxic chemicals equal cancer." In fact, I never wrote a single word about EDs when I was at the Boston Globe. Because as hard as I tried to sell the story, my editors could not get their minds around falling sperm counts and female gulls nesting together.
Our most-ambitious goal, I think, was to create a new overarching framework for the public discussion of chemicals. To do this, we had to challenge long-held assumptions in the public mind, and professional and scientific communities and in government and regulatory agencies. In my view, the book has helped spur a profound conceptual shift. But we haven’t fully accomplished the goal of expanding concern beyond cancer in high-dose exposure to developmental hazards and very low levels of exposure.
While it is true that ubiquitous background levels long-assumed to be safe have now become a matter of concern in some scientific and medical circles, I don’t think the past 10 years have left the broader public with a clear notion of what this is all about. This may be due to many things - the inherent complexity of the ED phenomenon, the fragmented way the media has covered the story. And the choice at Wingspread of the umbrella term, "Endocrine Disruptors." I can testify from experience that the metaphoric punch of names like, "The Ozone Hole," and "Acid Rain," helped greatly to communicate complicated problems to ordinary people. Thank you.
Steve Heilig: Thank you very much, Dianne. Dr. John Peterson Myers—our third author and speaker—is the founder and CEO of Environmental Health Sciences, which is an organization engaged in advancing public understanding of environmental links to health, and also puts out Environmental Health News—which I hope every CHE Partner is aware of and receives the newsletter from. He has served as the Director of the Alton Jones Foundation and has had senior positions at the National Audubon Society and the Academy of Natural Sciences—and, of course, is co-author of OSF. So, Pete?
5. Third Speaker: Pete Myers, PhD, CEO, Environmental Health Sciences
Thanks very much, Steve. And thanks to Dianne and Theo. It was wonderful writing the book, and fantastic working [inaudible]. I look back and conclude that the most-important thing we accomplished was stimulating investments literally of hundreds of millions of dollars into scientific research. Canada and the US, Europe and elsewhere. It’s that investment that is producing the flood of new science that Theo described, and which—as she said—is virtually impossible for one person on stay on top of.
The sciences, as we looked at it in 1996, was strong in some areas, and not in others. It wasn’t really ready to bring the conclusions home to the bank or to the public arenWhat’s come out since we've published has reinforced the concerns we've raised and added many more. If anything with Theo’s, we underestimated the magnitude [inaudible].
There have been several important trends in that new science. Scientists are seeing effects at even lower levels than we wrote about. Many more compounds are identified and implicated as being hormone disruptors. More hormone systems have been found to be vulnerable. In fact, every time scientists have looked carefully at part of the chemical machinery involved in controlling how genes are turned on and off, they have found examples of disruptions in not just the steroid hormones.
One consequence of that is that a much-broader array of health endpoints are now implicated—including a number chronic diseases of adulthood—including one that we certainly didn’t have in the book—which is obesity and related matters having to do with metabolic disorders. Another trend has been the study of endocrine disruption scientifically that’s converged with another field in health studies - that of fetal-development or developmental origins of adult diseases. The combination of those two together, gives the paradigm creating scientific strength.
You can look at this as a daunting issue, which it is. But I frankly also look at the emergence of this scientific understanding as a source of great hope. Collectively, science is linking environmental exposures to a wide array of health problems that today are imposing huge costs on society. In none of those are 100% of the cases likely to have been caused by exposure to endocrine disruptors. But some percentage is, and in some of the conditions, there's likely to be a large percentage. Those can be prevented by reducing exposures.
In the discussions about the de-funding of the National Children’s Study, one of the scientists quoted in the press coverage of that, that, "This generation of children moving into adulthood is likely to be the first in modern history less healthy than their parents." Science is coming out with a convergence of endocrine disruption and fetal-origins of adult disease, giving us the opportunity to make sure that the next generation doesn’t follow that same trend.
I'm also encouraged because we're seeing new developments in the field of chemistry—specifically, green chemistry—to redesign molecules. But they can’t interact with hormone systems, but can be as substitutes for compounds that we know are harmful. This field has a long way to go—being pulled forward by consumer-demand and by entrepreneurial companies.
We're seeing an economic opportunity to make money by making healthier products. Now, we're not there. I share some of Theo’s pessimism. I also think that this science has shown us a path along which we can move to make for a much-healthier future. Thank you.
6. Discussion / Q & A
Steve Heilig: I have one question—the quote—‘Endocrine disruption is a tough concept to sell to the public, because injuries are internal and invisible. What image or images do you think could best-communicate the message of endocrine disruption so the public, "gets it?"’, and that is from Margaret Braun, who has authored a book on DES stories, with a forward by Theo. Anybody want to take that? Pete? Dianne?
Dianne Dumanoski: I think we have discussed this a lot. Theo doesn’t agree with me, but I've always felt that "endocrine disruptors" was a bad term. That’s what I said in my talk. Yet, the phenomenon is so complex. In some cases, you're talking about prenatal effects, adult effects—you're talking about wildlife, you're talking about humans—you're talking about a whole variety of diseases and dysfunctions. It’s probably too late to have a contest to rename all of this. Pete—do you have any ideas?
Pete Myers: No. I have gone back and forth. I think that what the concept or what the phrase does is it makes it too easy for people not to [inaudible] and to understanding a lot of hormone actions are focused on changing gene behavior. Unless you've been steeped in genetics, you're going to miss that point and yet, it is the crucial central point of this whole issue. So from that respect, I think that the language may have hurt our ability to [inaudible]…
Theo Colborn: I just want to remind everyone—the most-difficult thing we had to decide at that meeting—because the people who were there obviously saw within the first 3 or 4 hours the problem we were facing. The difficult problem was coming up with the terminology. We battled over that. It was very, very difficult at the time, but we had to come to some conclusion.
I think—and I’ll be very frank with you—we were afraid to use the term, "fetus," and "embryo," to talk about this topic. We should have done it from the beginning, but politically we were advised not to. And I think that was where we made our mistake. Out of fear. Maybe the timing wasn’t right. But I think the day you start talking about that unborn child and what we're doing to that unborn child, we’ll begin to make progress.
Kathy Lawson, Healthy Children Project Director, Learning Disabilities Association: This is sort of an obvious question. Do you think that there might be a sequel? Maybe an "OSF II," coming up?
Steve Heilig: Good question. I think you scared them, but go ahead.
Pete Myers: We've periodically talked about that, and had wanted to set aside time prior to the 10th anniversary to perhaps get something down. But everyone’s leading pretty busy lives. So what we've done is tried to make the sequel a continuing sequel. So we did the website, OurStolenFuture to at least help people get up-to-date with where the science is going.
Dianne Dumanoski: This is Dianne. The problem, I think, is that the science has been moving so fast, far faster than the book publishing industry moves. I think that the reason that the website is kind of like the continual unfolding of "Our Stolen Future," is preferable is that it doesn’t get out-of-date. We even had the problem when we did, "Our Stolen Future," that a lot of new science came out by the time the book actually hit the streets.
Andy Edgar, Clean Water Action, St. Paul, Minnesota: I was wondering what kinds of effects endocrine disruptors or—are there more in water and food and air or where? Where do you find them, in terms of where they actually take place, and how they get into the body?
Theo Colborn: Well, I think you’ll find them in every system. Endocrine disruptors now are in your home—everywhere—everything you touch. They have become integrated into our lifestyle and our economy. Yes, they're in the water. Some people might be exposed to them through the water. Others are inhaling them. They're dermally absorbed through the skin. We breathe them in in our homes, and your exposure shifts from minute-to-minute as you move about, now.
It would be great if we only had 1 or 2 chemicals to deal with. We have hundreds, now. It’s a very difficult question. But working with water, it’s your job to really work and learn what is being found in water—what you can possibly get out of the water systems. We've got to find out how to purify our water. We don’t have filtrated systems to get a lot of these chemicals out.
Andy Edgar: Thank you. I'd just like to honor World Water Day today, too.
Steve Heilig: Let me just add as a follow-up to that, a question emailed in by a Partner –"Is there anything that an individual can do if they have a known-or-suspected problem related to endocrine disruption, to calm or halt reactions?"
Pete Myers: On the specific impact and the timing of the impact—it’s impossible to rewind the developmental tape. At the same time, there are effects of some endocrine disruptors on adults. Some of those are not causing permanent changes. So it depends completely upon the chemical and the timing of impact and the endpoints.
Steve Heilig: Thank you, Pete. Do we have another question from a caller?
Unknown Speaker: I have a question. A pressing problem. Which chemical? Perchlorates? Or pick one that you're most-concerned about.
Theo Colborn: I think the big one is bisphenol A, I think Pete will confirm this. This is a simple, very small, 2-benzene ring molecule that apparently can get into all the cells in the body. Every system that it has been tested in at low doses, it seems to disturb, during development. It became evident near the late 1990s. We had a database on this, and from 1990 until now, you just wouldn’t believe the increase in the numbers of studies that are coming in from laboratories around the world, as scientists begin to hear about this chemical. They like to throw it into their systems to see what happens. Pete—do you want to add to that?
Pete Myers: I would concur with Theo. 95% of Americans are exposed to bisphenol A levels that—when an adult mouse encounters this—it causes insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is one of the central problems in metabolic disorder linked to Type 2 diabetes and obesity. 95% of Americans are exposed to levels sufficient in mice to cause that problem. Bisphenol A alters the expression of at least 200 genes. That’s astounding. That’s at least 1% of the human genome. It’s a bad actor.
Dianne Dumanoski: Yes. I concur. Bisphenol A is top of my bad-guy list.
Theo Colborn: Also, the interesting thing is, we missed it probably because it doesn’t bio-accumulate. It’s just that everyone is exposed to it so frequently and so often, it maintains about a 2- to 5-part per billion level in the body—at the range at which these tests are being done in the laboratory. So it’s a sleeper. And industry works very hard to keep it as a sleeper. Our government laboratory’s just begun to do a study using this particular product.
Dianne Dumanoski: But it was in "Our Stolen Future." We did raise a question about it.
Andy Edgar: Just a quick question. Does that come from the plastic water bottles like Dasani and stuff like that?
Pete Myers: It doesn’t come from the Dasani bottles. It comes from polycarbonate water bottles. The one brand of which is now… It also comes from linings in food cans. There are other sources, as well.
Dianne Dumanoski: The big jugs that they deliver spring water in are also polycarbonate.
Theo Colborn: But bisphenol A is also brominated. It’s used as a fire retardant. So, it’s in and used on clothing, paper, paint on your walls. It’s used in the glass in automobiles. It’s great for basically producing a plastic product and then making it safe so you can ship it. It won’t burn. It has prevented—probably—a lot of fires. It’s very much, as I said, an integral part of our talking to each other now on our telephones.
Alison Carlson, CHE Working Group on Infertility: I understand that the proposed national budget includes a 30% cut in real dollars for endocrine-disruptor research and the research infrastructure. I'm wondering if the authors of OurStolenFuture have any comment about that. And I'm interested in whether there are groups who are organizing to look at that proposed budget cut.
Theo Colborn: Well, I have an associate in Washington who’s been watching it very closely. It’s just sad. Extremely sad. The funding and the direction that the EPA and laboratories are taking—the research people—is away from getting at the basic science that’s going to help us resolve our endocrine disruption problems. The funding is shifting away from this type of thing.
We tried several years ago to get a line item—additional money—from the Office of Research and Development. We got the money and it was about $10 million. At the end of the year, they could not decide how they were going to spend the money. That money then went into paying salaries.
The whole system needs to sit back. We've got to take a breath and say, "We've got to start over." You don't even regulate these chemicals the way you would regulate the usual toxicants. It’s the whole policy trail. It’s the translation of the science into policy. We have real problems.
Pete Myers: Thanks for that question, Alison. I think it’s a tragedy. Now, with the CATO research reinforcing the questions—deepening them—broadening them—we're really seeing opportunities toward prevention. They are contemplating pulling the base out from under this enterprise. This is a tragedy.
Diana Zuckerman, National Center for Policy Research (CPR) for Women & Families: I think it was Dianne that talked about the importance of a "catchy title," and the use of "Ozone Hole," as a good example. But it wasn’t clear to me whether you thought "Endocrine Disruptors," was catchy enough. I think it’s difficult for a lot of people. But it just wasn’t clear to me what you were saying. I'm wondering if there's an easier term for people who are not necessarily scientifically oriented.
Dianne Dumanoski: No. I share your concern. I basically feel that the term "Endocrine Disruptors" is really problematic. If you go back and read "Our Stolen Future," you’ll find that the term appears very seldom in, "Our Stolen Future," because it just doesn’t communicate.
We had debated about what else to call this, and nobody has come up with a really zingy, wonderful alternative term—although I think there might be some. But 10 years later, it’s very hard to rename something.
Diana Zuckerman: Right.
Dianne Dumanoski: I mean we've talked about "Stealth Chemicals," and "Chemical Imposters," and "Chemical Sabotage," and there are terms we've used over the years.
Diana Zuckerman: "Hormones," might be—if you think that’s an appropriate term. That would be…
Dianne Dumanoski: No, because it’s broader than that.
Diana Zuckerman: Yes.
Dianne Dumanoski: Basically, we did have a chapter called, "Hormone Havoc in our Stolen Future," but as Pete said, it’s now other kinds of chemical messengers that aren’t steroid hormones that are being disrupted. So it’s basically a kind of chemical disinformation, broadly.
It could be via acting as an imposter or blocking messages, but it’s a complete disruption of message systems. But I do think that other terms would be helpful. I don’t know whether you can officially say we're not calling them "endocrine disruptors" any more and we're going to have a contest. Then everybody on this conference call can put in their bid for the new terms.
Pete Myers: I could comment both about this one and a previous question. About this one—when I speak publicly about these issues, I rarely use the term. In fact, I just got an e-mail from a symposium organizer in California, where I’ll be early May. He asked me to change the title so it was clear it was about endocrine disruption. I think [inaudible] about it, frankly.
Theo Colborn: You mean it would interfere if we changed the name 10 years down the road?
Pete Myers: Well, it’s here.
Theo Colborn: It’s here.
Pete Myers: It’s here. But I will give an entire public speech without saying the phrase.
Dianne Dumanoski: So what are you calling it?
Pete Myers: I talk about the ways that the behavior is controlled. Broadness to the range of chemical messengers that are essential to that process. And how chemical contaminants can hack the system. You're hacking a messaging system.
I did want to briefly get back to the bisphenol A point because it kind of circles around to an earlier comment that I made. I talked briefly about green chemistry in my first comments. Bisphenol A is a really good example of that. Of the opportunities that this new science offers. Bottom line, bisphenol A is a problem because of the way that it interacts with certain hormone receptors. It can do that because of its shape - because of the molecular configuration of that molecule. What green chemists are actively doing right now is trying to figure out, "How can we change the shape of the molecule" so it can’t fit in the estrogen receptor, any more? Yet, you can make plastic out of it? Now, they aren’t done with this kind of exploration, but it’s really opening an interesting opportunity. Bisphenol A may become a poster child—both because of the bad stuff that it does, but also because large undertaking to replace it.
Steve Heilig: I'd actually like to just follow up a little bit on that in a broader sense. In the chapter I mentioned, "Defending Ourselves," you actually laid out a kind of agenda for improving protection—starting with shifting the burden of proof, et ceterI'm just wondering if any of you would like to give a grade or a progress report since the 10 years have gone by. How far have we come on these kinds of important policies and different approaches? If you want to give it a grade A through F, say.
Pete Myers: In the US?
Steve Heilig: In the US. Yes.
Pete Myers: Well, in terms of policy?
Steve Heilig: Yes.
Pete Myers: There's been some steps, with the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996. Good step. But in terms of the issues today that we're talking about, it’s close to F.
Steve Heilig: Close to F. Theo?
Theo Colborn: F.
Steve Heilig: Dianne?
Dianne Dumanoski: F.
Steve Heilig: Okay. With that, do we have any more questions?
Louise Mitchell, Publicist, Weston A Price Foundation: I wanted to know what each of the speakers think would be the 3 most-effective actions that an average citizen can take, and that a community activist locally can take?
Dianne Dumanoski: To what end? What is the goal?
Louise Mitchell: My goal is to have an impact on this information that you're presenting to the world—not only with your book, but in the past 10 years—now that you know more. What can I, as an average citizen do in my life and in my community? I work with lots of local citizens to mobilize all kinds of action in Congress and at our local state level and city level. But with the broad amount of information that you know, from writing the book but also from reviewing all of this massive amount of data and information… What are the 3 most-important things that you can see that an average citizen can do?
Personally, I think of going back to being an urban homesteader. That’s, to me, the bottom-line. It’s like, "Live locally, grow food, don’t drive my car, walk to work, don’t drink out of plastic bottles."
Steve Heilig: All the recommendations for individual action are in the book, as well, but how would we improve the grade that we just mentioned, I think, is the question.
Theo Colborn: I've had a vision for about 6 years, now, that having gone to the Hill… I went to the Hill one day to talk to staffers and to be staffing on endocrine disruption and where we were—and showing these links with the fetal origins of the certain disorders. One of those disorders was diabetes, and of course, we were looking at learning disability.
Down the hall was a group of people who'd come in from around the country to get more attention for diabetes. To raise money and get money on the budget to look at cures for diabetes. We tried talking to that group. We were sharing the hall. You're given one room to go in, and you have to juggle back-and-forth.
The interesting thing was that we could not get them interested in speaking about prevention, and the message we were bringing there. That’s why I think there's so much hope in what we are doing with CHE. Because as all of these different organizations that are listening in now… you're representing a lot of organizations… We need to gang together and go as one individual or one entity on the Hill, from the diabetics to the learning disabilities or to everybody. We'd just pile in on the Hill and say, "We want to speak 'prevention'. We are here for you to put crash money into a program to turn the health situation around in this country." I think CHE is the answer. But how we do it and get it organized… I think CHE could possibly do this.
Louise Mitchell: If I just could share that locally right now in the State of Maryland, we're working on the Healthy Air Act. Just getting the local and state legislature to approve cutting down 4 pollutants in the state—and the power plants… All the environmental groups in the health groups have formed a coalition called The Healthy Air Coalition. It’s been so effective. It looks like it’s going to be probably the-most effective or the-most strict bill—from what I hear, among the country. If it works. It’s been working on all levels of actions. Anyway—that may be something useful for a national approach.
Steve Heilig: We have a related question e-mailed in, and actually, this is something that you mentioned in your book, as well. It’s, "What lessons or models might we take from the Tobacco Control movement?
Dianne Dumanoski: I have an answer for that one. I think on the local level, the use of pesticides in the suburbs on playing fields and in kids' schoolyards—the use of chemical lawn services, which has drift that goes into other peoples' yards… You could model a campaign that would be about "second-hand pesticide exposure." I think it might have the potential for getting various groups together.
But I really think there's a daily sort of wide use of pesticides that continues everywhere. It’s something that really needs to have people rally around it and address it. Even the fact that Public Television has Scotts ads on its gardening programs… And these pictures of these weed-free lawns… It tells you how little progress we've made on raising public awareness. I would really vote for that kind of campaign.
Marcia Marks, Bethesda, MD: I wrote in that question. I think that we're not going to get anywhere on the federal level, and it’s time to go to the local level. That’s what we did with tobacco, and it’s been a very successful example.
To get laws passed on local levels, and where possible, on the state levels. But we did this also with pesticides. We got our community to stop using pesticides in the government buildings. I think it’s good. Looking at tobacco, when you can’t get things done on the federal level, you go to the local level—where you have some impact.
Steve Heilig: Yes. That’s been true in California, as well.
Barbara McElgunn, RN, Learning Disabilities Association, Canada: I've been working with Health Canada, and also, I know the valuation of priority chemicals. They're producing over 1 million pounds a year. We've tried to get endocrine disruption on the list of tox data that would be looked at. We know that there are no validated and standardized tests, right now. But at least to have the empirical evidence brought into some kind of a weighted-evidence look.
Steve Heilig: And your question is how to prioritize?
Barbara McElgunn: How to prioritize and… I understand that Japan has a list of chemicals that they consider to be endocrine disruptors. How did they get that list? Did they caste them? Could that be applied in the US and Canada toward these chemicals?
Steve Heilig: Any one of our speakers want to take that? Prioritization…?
Theo Colborn: Did Barbara say that OSF had the list?
Barbara McElgunn: Japan.
Theo Colborn: Oh, Japan.
Barbara McElgunn: Japan, I believe, has a list of 100 or so that they consider endocrine disruptors.
Theo Colborn: Well, they probably got that list based on the peer-review literature that’s coming out of laboratories around the world. That list is growing. No one wants to put out a list because they don’t want to take credit for it. Because lists are always changing. If you contact my office, we can send you everybody’s priority list of chemicals. It’s an interesting mix.
But at least a lot of this is based on what is coming from academia, in some countries. In this country, EPA does not look at what’s coming out of the peer-review literature out of academiThe work has to be done, apparently, in commercial laboratories, using standard protocols.
Until we get EPA to start dipping into defining these problems that Pete just talked about with bisphenol A and everything else, we have got to start leaning on that. I think there is a very important policy change that needs to be made. EPA should be made to get into that peer-review literature and start doing their health analysis on that. I hate to say, "risk analysis," because the old "risk-analysis" approach is not going to work for endocrine disruption.
Barbara McElgunn: That’s a good point. Thank you.
Pat Hilgard, PhD, Toxicologist / Risk Assessor, US EPA: I am in the New Chemicals program. We get industrial chemical applications. We have 90 days to see if there's something that we want to look at, and if we want to ask for any testing. I have, right now, bisphenol A substitutes and we can only ask for things that aren’t too expensive. EPA has no place on finalizing guidance on this. Do you have any suggestions for…?
Theo Colborn: Well, get that routine changed—definitely!
Pat Hilgard: We need to. I have something I need to do in the next couple of weeks. Can I call you to talk about this?
Theo Colborn: Yes.
Steve Heilig: You two can talk about this afterwards. We are out of time, here. I really do want to thank everyone for listening and calling in. Especially to our speakers. I am going to turn it back now to Eleni. So thank you all very much.
Eleni Sotos: Thanks, Steven. Yes, I'd also like to thank our speakers and our participants. We do have a resources-and-background information on our website. We may have more information posted. So keep your eye on that. We will keep you posted on that, as well.
The next Partnership Call is on the Integrity of Science. That is scheduled for Friday, April 28th at 9 am. We will be sending out more email to our partners about that call. Thanks very much, everyone. Have a great week!