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PANUPS: Endocrine Disruptors

                         P A N U P S
                   Pesticide Action Network 
                        North America
                       Updates Service
                   EMAIL: panna@panna.org

June 16, 1997

U.S. Assesses Endocrine Disruptors

According to a recent report by the U.S. Environmental 
Protection Agency (EPA), assessing the effects of endocrine 
disruptors on humans is difficult due to limited data, but 
the potential risks, especially to children, warrant further 
research. EPA prepared the report as an interim assessment of 
potential health and environmental impacts of endocrine 
disrupting chemicals, pending release of a more extensive 
report later in 1997 by the National Academy of Sciences 
(NAS). This interim report will be used to assist the Agency 
in making regulatory decisions and setting research 
priorities regarding endocrine disruptors -- chemicals, 
including some pesticides, that interfere with the hormonal 
or endocrine systems of humans and animals.

The interim report examined nearly 300 peer-reviewed studies 
on the relationship of chemicals to the endocrine systems of 
humans, laboratory animals and wildlife. It investigated 
whether there is evidence that endocrine disruptors play a 
part in human health effects, including ovary and 
reproductive tract impacts, endometriosis and breast cancer 
in women; reproductive system harm, testicular cancer and 
prostate cancer in men; and hypothalamus, pituitary and 
thyroid impacts in both sexes.

With very few exceptions (for example, the pharmaceutical 
DES), the report found no causal relationship between 
endocrine disruption and human health impacts. However, it 
emphasized that there are large data gaps and that, in 
theory, many of the human effects that have been hypothesized 
could indeed be the result of endocrine disrupting chemicals. 

In addition, the report stated that documentation of problems 
related to endocrine disruption in wildlife species 
strengthens the hypothesis that humans may be vulnerable to 
the same effects. "The studies we reviewed demonstrate that 
exposure to certain endocrine disrupting chemicals can lead 
to disturbing health effects in animals, including cancer, 
sterility and developmental problems, among others," said Dr. 
Robert Huggett, EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of 
Research and Development. Endocrine disruption has been 
reported in many species of wildlife, including snails, fish, 
alligators, gulls, eagles, panthers, seals and dolphins. 

In related news, the Endocrine Disruptors Screening and 
Testing Advisory Committee (EDSTAC) held its most recent 
meeting in Baltimore, Maryland from April 29-30, 1997. This 
was the third meeting of EDSTAC, a committee established by 
EPA to develop guidelines for screening chemicals for their 
endocrine disrupting potential. The committee is comprised of 
approximately ten representatives from industry, ten from 
government, ten from academic institutions and ten from 
nonprofit public interest organizations. 

According to Davis Baltz, a Research Associate at Commonweal 
who has been attending the EDSTAC meetings and monitoring its 
progress, some public interest representatives were 
frustrated by several developments in Baltimore, including 
the working definition of "endocrine disruptor" that emerged. 
This definition states that an endocrine disruptor is "an 
exogenous substance that changes endocrine function and 
causes adverse effects at the level of organism, its progeny, 
and/or (sub)populations of organisms." Some representatives 
of public interest organizations decried the use of "adverse 
effects" in the language. They asked, what should be done 
about a chemical for which there is evidence of binding to 
hormone receptors, but (as yet) no observed effects? Despite 
observed interference in endocrine function, such a chemical 
would not be considered an endocrine disruptor according to 
the current working definition.

Public interest members were also disappointed to learn that 
EPA will use a risk assessment framework which will likely 
establish thresholds for endocrine disruptors despite 
criticism that risk assessment is inadequate for identifying 
and managing the threats of these substances. In addition, 
public interest representatives were dismayed that the 
committee chose not to stress the precautionary principle in 
its latest draft of the Conceptual Framework, a set of 
guidelines that specify if and how a particular chemical 
undergoes scrutiny. 

EDSTAC's next meeting will be July 15-16, 1997 in Chicago. 
Smaller work groups of the committee will meet before then. 

Sources: Special Report on Environmental Endocrine 
Disruption: An Effects Assessment and Analysis, EPA Risk 
Assessment Forum, February 1997 (EPA/630/R-96/012); EPA Press 
Release, March 13, 1997; Email report from Davis Baltz, May 
13, 1997.
Contact: PANNA

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