This thoroughly documented account of synthetic chemicals that the body accepts as hormones raises several major points. First, investigators and government officials should pay attention to these chemicals' functional and neurological effects rather than just to their effects on cancer and birth defects. Second, these chemicals do not act like ordinary poisons: while high doses may not cause problems, low doses are sometimes devastating, putting reproductive systems and developing brains in especial danger. The authors also deal with DES, PCBs, and dioxins in both animals and humans; citing examples, they show how animal studies have provided early warnings for human problems but have often been casually dismissed. Further, they suggest how to protect oneself and one's family. Emphasis in future work with synthetic chemicals, they say, should be not on abolishing them, but on redesigning them and their processes; and research support for studies of hormone-mimicking synthetics should have higher priority than research for genetic causes of medical problems because more can be done to counteract chemicals.
A new exposé points out the threat of chemical pollutants that mimic the hormones in our bodies, undercutting the natural cycles of growing organisms.
Dumanoski is a science reporter for the Boston Globe; Colborn and Myers are two of the environmental scientists who have pioneered the study of the biological effects of pollution. In the late 1980s, while studying the effects of pollution on the Great Lakes, Colborn began to recognize a pattern: the impairment of reproductive or growth cycles in various organisms. The evidence includes gull populations in which males are so scarce that females have taken to nesting together, eagles that have lost interest in mating, and alligators with deformed sexual organs. The culprits were PCBs, dioxin, DDE (a DDT breakdown product)persistent chemicals that concentrate in the body fat of animals toward the top of the food chain and, ultimately, in human beings. Despite efforts to ban use of the chemicals, they are already ubiquitous in the environmentin everything from arctic ice to mother's milkand some of them will not break down for centuries. Several studies indicate lowered sperm counts in human males over the last 50 years, quite possibly an effect of the increased use of the suspected chemicals. Dumanoski effectively dramatizes the story of Colborn's findings, explaining both the biochemical reactions and their environmental importance. On the difficult question of how to combat the pervasive threat, the authors have several suggestions: monitoring the quality of drinking water, not eating fish from waters known to be contaminated, avoiding animal fat in the diet, eating organic produce, avoiding contact between food and plastics. On a governmental level, increasing vigilance and regulation is a step in the right direction.
The authors' warning may seem alarmist to many, but in view of the potential threat to humanity as a whole, it would be folly to ignore it.