(Beyond Pesticides, July 22, 2011)
Parallel bills have been introduced in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives designed to increase federal research on endocrine disrupting chemicals and ensure public safety by restricting or eliminating chemicals found to present unacceptable risks to public health. S 1361, introduced by Senator John Kerry (D-MA), and HR 2521, introduced by Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), are both titled the Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Exposure Elimination Act. The bills would establish a scientific panel at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to evaluate up to ten chemicals per year that potentially affect the endocrine system and would create a trigger to ban those found most harmful to public health.
The bills would create a more updated scientific evaluation process than any that currently exists in the federal government for reviewing potential endocrine disruptors and would have a strong regulatory mandate to ban or restrict chemicals that are found to present serious health risks. The specific process outlined directs the National Toxicology Program at NIEHS to evaluate each chemical according to (i) the amount of evidence that it is an endocrine disruptor, (ii) the “level of concern” that it may disrupt hormones, and (iii) the pathways of exposure by which it may affect both humans and animals. Every two years the Program would then submit a list of chemicals to Congress and federal agencies detailing the chemicals it has reviewed and what it found regarding the three evaluation criteria. There would then be a regulatory trigger for federal agencies to reduce human exposure for chemicals found to present a “minimal level of concern,” or a ban on chemicals found to be of “highest level of concern.” The bills also contain provisions allowing citizens or local governments to petition NIEHS to evaluate a particular chemical or reverse a finding on a previous chemical regarding whether or not it is an endocrine disruptor.
Common household products including detergents, disinfectants, plastics, and pesticides contain chemical ingredients that enter the body, disrupt hormones and cause adverse developmental, disease, and reproductive problems. Known as endocrine disruptors, these chemicals, which interact with the endocrine system, wreak havoc in humans and wildlife. The endocrine system consists of a set of glands (thyroid, gonads, adrenal and pituitary) and the hormones they produce (thyroxine, estrogen, testosterone and adrenaline), which help guide the development, growth, reproduction, and behavior of animals, including humans. Hormones are signaling molecules, which travel through the bloodstream and elicit responses in other parts of the body.
The chemicals function by: (i) Mimicking the action of a naturally-produced hormone, such as estrogen or testosterone, thereby setting off similar chemical reactions in the body; (ii) Blocking hormone receptors in cells, thereby preventing the action of normal hormones; or (iii) Affecting the synthesis, transport, metabolism and excretion of hormones, thus altering the concentrations of natural hormones. Endocrine disruptors have been linked to a range of health problems, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, early puberty, infertility and other reproductive disorders, and childhood and adult cancers. Learn more by visiting our Pesticide Induced Diseases Database. Many everyday chemicals that people are exposed to can be endocrine disruptors. Pesticides such as triclosan, atrazine, permethrin and many others have been associated with effects on the body’s hormone system.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified a list of chemicals that will be screened for their potential to disrupt the endocrine system, along with a draft of the policies and procedures that the agency has proposed to follow for testing. The agency is mandated to test chemicals for their potential to affect the hormone system. However, the agency has yet to finalize its procedures or officially test a chemical for endocrine disruption since tasked to do so in 1996 by an act of Congress. The tests to be used by EPA were first recommended in 1998. Since then the science has made progress and become more sophisticated. Current research is based on different assumptions than the toxicological assumptions that first drove the EPA test designs. However, EPA has not updated its protocol. The system created by these two bills would present the opportunity for a comprehensive federal evaluation process so that EPA would not have to rely on its own outdated system.
Earlier this year, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, Inc. (TEDX) released a comprehensive list of potential endocrine disruptors. It is the most complete such list to date and currently approximately 800 distinct chemicals. Each one has one or more verified citations to published, accessible, primary scientific research demonstrating effects on the endocrine system.
S 1361 and HR 2521 have been referred to the appropriate committees in the House and Senate. Contact your Senators and Representative and urge them to support these bills and the commitments to public health that they represent.