Thursday, July 02, 2009

Endocrine Disruptors in the NYT

Let's see what you think about this one. Kristof in the New York Times the other day.
Some of the first eerie signs of a potential health catastrophe came as bizarre deformities in water animals, often in their sexual organs.

Frogs, salamanders and other amphibians began to sprout extra legs. In heavily polluted Lake Apopka, one of the largest lakes in Florida, male alligators developed stunted genitals.

In the Potomac watershed near Washington, male smallmouth bass have rapidly transformed into “intersex fish” that display female characteristics. This was discovered only in 2003, but the latest survey found that more than 80 percent of the male smallmouth bass in the Potomac are producing eggs.

Now scientists are connecting the dots with evidence of increasing abnormalities among humans, particularly large increases in numbers of genital deformities among newborn boys. For example, up to 7 percent of boys are now born with undescended testicles, although this often self-corrects over time. And up to 1 percent of boys in the United States are now born with hypospadias, in which the urethra exits the penis improperly, such as at the base rather than the tip. It’s Time to Learn From Frogs

So there's something in the air, or in the water, or somewhere in our environment, that is affecting the sexual development of wildlife and humans. I like to catch bass but I admit I can't tell a male fish from a female unless there are eggs. It is interesting to know that our own Potomac River has intersex fish. What do you suppose that water is doing to your kids?
Apprehension is growing among many scientists that the cause of all this may be a class of chemicals called endocrine disruptors. They are very widely used in agriculture, industry and consumer products. Some also enter the water supply when estrogens in human urine — compounded when a woman is on the pill — pass through sewage systems and then through water treatment plants.

These endocrine disruptors have complex effects on the human body, particularly during fetal development of males.

“A lot of these compounds act as weak estrogen, so that’s why developing males — whether smallmouth bass or humans — tend to be more sensitive,” said Robert Lawrence, a professor of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It’s scary, very scary.”

Okay, I think we might have here a perfect example of irony. Unregulated free enterprise resulted in the dumping of endocrine disruptors, including chemicals that act as female hormones, into the environment. Even while they campaigned against gay and transgender rights, the cowboys of the Bush administration let business set its own standards for pollution and toxins, and the ironic result is the demasculinization of the American man.

How do you like that?
The scientific case is still far from proven, as chemical companies emphasize, and the uncertainties for humans are vast. But there is accumulating evidence that male sperm count is dropping and that genital abnormalities in newborn boys are increasing. Some studies show correlations between these abnormalities and mothers who have greater exposure to these chemicals during pregnancy, through everything from hair spray to the water they drink.

Endocrine disruptors also affect females. It is now well established that DES, a synthetic estrogen given to many pregnant women from the 1930s to the 1970s to prevent miscarriages, caused abnormalities in the children. They seemed fine at birth, but girls born to those women have been more likely to develop misshaped sexual organs and cancer.

There is also some evidence from both humans and monkeys that endometriosis, a gynecological disorder, is linked to exposure to endocrine disruptors. Researchers also suspect that the disruptors can cause early puberty in girls.

A rush of new research has also tied endocrine disruptors to obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes, in both animals and humans. For example, mice exposed in utero even to low doses of endocrine disruptors appear normal at first but develop excess abdominal body fat as adults.

The Wikipedia page on endocrine disruptors is pretty informative. Bisphenol A is an important endocrine disruptor that is found in baby bottles, infant formula cans, and, you might be interested to know, in the plastic that bottled water comes in. It's bad stuff, even Wal-Mart agreed to remove it from their products. At 0.025 µg/kg/day it causes permanent changes to genital tract -- the EPA limit for human exposure is 50 µg/kg/day, which has been shown to cause adverse neurological effects in primates. It affects breast tissue, prostate weight, testosterone production, maternal behaviors ... this is nasty stuff.

This is just the kind of thing where conservatives complain about Big Brother government monitoring and setting limits, they argue that consumers will choose safer products if that's what they want, and the market will adapt. But the public doesn't know, people can't tell when something has an endocrine disruptor in it -- gazillions of people think that pure bottled water they're drinking is good for them, they don't realize the plastic is undermining their endocrine system. I don't like Big Brother government telling citizens who they can and can't marry, but I don't mind if objective studies are done by agencies with no profit incentive to learn the effects of toxins on humans, I don't mind if regulations are established and enforced to protect the population from businesses who only respond to the bottom line.


Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

And five million pregnant American women took DES between 1948-71, and had 5 million children. No miscarriage was prevented, but there's been plenty of breast and uterine cancer, infertility, urogenital tract abnormalities, and sexual development variations.

Welcome to my world :-)

July 02, 2009 10:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

they made a movie about your world, didn't they?

July 03, 2009 10:50 AM  
Anonymous Robert said...

Can you imagine a movie about anonymous trolls: disguised voices, hidden faces, unknown bridges, insipid interviews.

July 04, 2009 2:06 PM  
Anonymous EastGhostCom said...

Such coincidence that Obama's Science Czar (John Holdren) wrote a book decades ago (ECOSCIENCE) with co-authors presumably related to Maryland's governor Ehrlich that's all about the "need" to secretly sterilize the population by poisoning the public water supplies. Hmmm. Big think there. See photos and transcripts from this unbelievable book at

May 21, 2012 4:50 AM  

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