A hormonal whodunit

Increasing controversy surrounds certain chemicals thought to be capable of modulating the endocrine system and adversely affecting health, reproduction and development in humans and wildlife. Some scientists speculate that these effects can include compromised reproductive fitness, abnormal reproductive system development and hormone-dependent cancers. For example, as profiled in one of this month's news briefs (page 12) recent research points to a possible connection between human testicular cancer and suspected endocrine disrupting chemicals such as DDT and PCB.

In 1996, concern about such chemicals, sometimes called pseudo-estrogens and pseudo-androgens, prompted the passage of certain provisions of the Food Quality Protection Act and amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act. These laws mandated that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) develop a screening program for endocrine disrupting chemicals by August 1998, implement the program by August 1999, and report to Congress on the program's progress by August 2000. In 1996, EPA formed the Endocrine Disruptor Screening and Testing Advisory Committee (EDSTAC), which is charged with providing advice on how to design the new program.

According to EPA, a method for prioritizing more than 87,000 chemicals - including pesticides, commodity chemicals, environmental contaminants, naturally occurring non-steroidal estrogens (e.g. phytoestrogens and mycotoxins), food additives, cosmetics, nutritional supplements and a set of representative mixtures - for review is expected to be developed during 1999. Later this year, EPA plans to start the initial screening of 15,000 substances, using an automated method known as high throughput prescreening.

EDSTAC has recommended that three primary hormone systems - estrogen, androgen and thyroid - be included in the screening and testing program because they are important hormones in both humans and wildlife, with a relatively large body of available relevant data. For more information about the endocrine disruptor research being conducted, check out the EPA's Web site at www.epa.gov/endocrine.

Testing chemical products to determine their inherent hazards to humans and the environment is a responsibility that is now being borne by both the U.S. government and chemical manufacturers. In this month's cover story, "Testing: How much is enough?" (page 14), Dr. Gregory Bond of Dow Chemical explains how his company has adopted a tiered testing approach. As part of Dow's product stewardship code, it has established a system to identify, document and implement health, safety and environmental risk-management actions appropriate to its chemical products' potential risks.

Nominations for our Facilities of the Year
Has your facility been formally recognized in 1999 for pollution prevention strategies, innovative design or other environmental accomplishments? If so, please let us know and we'll consider it for the coveted title of one of our five Facilities of the Year in our November issue. Every year we salute the top industrial plants, wastewater treatment operations, landfills and other types of facilities that have been singled out for outstanding environmental achievements by government regulators, trade associations or other professional groups. If you're interested, please contact me at aneville@stevenspublishing.com.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/1999 issue of Environmental Protection.

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