Twenty-five years ago “endocrine disrupting chemicals” was hardly a household term. Now at the grocery store or while traveling, I’ve been astonished to hear “endocrine disrupting chemicals” or “EDCs” roll off some people’s tongues as though they were toxicologists, rather than parents with little background in science simply voicing concerns about possible links between chemical exposures and their kids’ health. Even mainstream news outlets refer to EDCs with only the briefest of explanations these days.
How did this happen? I certainly don’t have the space here to detail this remarkable story, but some pioneering researchers in the 1990s were central to bringing these critical issues and a revolution in scientific thinking to national and international attention. Theo Colborn, Pete Myers, Niels Skakkebaek, John McLachlan and Lou Guillette – to name just a few – began publishing and speaking to other scientists, health professionals, health advocates, philanthropists and journalists about the significance of this research. In language accessible to lay audiences, they brought home the point that certain chemicals, pervasive in our environment, could disrupt healthy biological processes at minuscule doses during key windows of development. Most disturbingly, they described how these synthetic chemicals were present in the womb and could contribute to chronic diseases and disabilities across the lifespan.
The publication of the seminal book, Our Stolen Future, in 1996, was particularly catalytic, spawning hundreds more scientific studies as well as nonprofits devoted to bringing attention to the emerging research and translating it into stronger public health policy – CHE being among them.
Next week many colleagues in the environmental health field will attend a conference, “25 Years of Endocrine Disruption Research: Past Lessons and Future Directions”, hosted at the National Institutes of Health’s headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland. Dovetailing with that conference is a meeting for grantees studying chemicals linked to obesity, a burgeoning area of EDC research. That too is particularly timely given September is National Childhood Obesity Month in the US, and among the leaders addressing this massive public health concern, scant attention is yet given to the role EDCs may be playing in the childhood obesity epidemic.