Commentary: 25 Years of Endocrine Disruptor Research – Great Strides, But Still a Long Way to Go

written by Laura N. Vandenberg, PhD
Assistant Professor and Graduate Program Director of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences

Laura N. Vandenberg

Laura Vandenberg (Credit:

Reprinted with permission from Environmental Health News

Cancer. Diabetes. Autism. Infertility. ADHD. Asthma. As the rates of these diseases increase over time, the public and researchers alike have focused on the role the environment might play in their cause and progression. Scientists in the field of environmental health sciences are not satisfied just to know that the environment contributes to human disease – they want to know how.

This week [ScienceSeptember 18-20], researchers, public health advocates, government officials, and industry spokespersons will meet at National Institutes of Health (NIH) to celebrate 25 years of scientific research on one aspect of environmental health: endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These are compounds that alter the way hormones act in the body, often by mimicking or blocking their actions. Just a few examples of widely used consumer products that contain EDCs are plastics, electronics, flooring, some personal care products, and furniture treated with some flame retardants.

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Childhood Leukemia: An Ounce of Prevention

Written by Mark Miller MD, MPH; Catherine Metayer, MD, PhD; and Gary Dahl, MD

Mark Miller, MD, MPH
Catherine Metayer, MD, PhD

This post was originally published on the website of Physicians for Social Responsibility. It is posted here with permission of the authors. CHE is hosting a teleconference call on January 22nd on this topic as part of the launch of A Story of Health. The call features Dr. Miller and Dr. Metayer, the first two authors of this post.

The nearly miraculous news is that great strides have been made in the treatment of childhood acute lymphocytic leukemia, and now nearly 90% of children are cured. The dark side, however, is that the incidence of childhood leukemia (age 0-14 years) in the United States has increased an average of 0.7 percent per year since 1975.[1] During the 35 years between 1975 and 2011, there has been a 55% increase in the number of children diagnosed annually (per capita, age adjusted) with this most common form of cancer in childhood. Though a cure is now expected for most children, side effects both short and long-term and secondary cancers later in life are common. The emotional and financial costs for these children and families is considerable.

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Are There Environmental Causes for Type 1 Diabetes?

This is an excerpt of an article by Sarah Howard, Coordinator of CHE’s Diabetes-Obesity Spectrum Working Group. More information on this topic will be presented during CHE’s November 12th teleconference call: Type 1 Diabetes and the Environment, which is free and open to the public. After the call, a recording will be posted.

Sarah HowardType 1 researchers generally agree that the increasing incidence in Type 1 diabetes must be due to environmental factors. What those factors are, however, remains an area of active debate and research. Some of the top contenders include: viruses (either too many or too few), vitamin D deficiency, the gut microbiota, diet/nutrition (including cow’s milk or gluten), being overweight or obese, and environmental chemicals. It very well could be a combination of factors to blame, with different factors playing different roles in each person, depending on genetic make-up, and thus making it difficult to identify any root causes of the problem.

Read the full article on the Insulin Nation website.

Healthy Urban Gardens: Current Projects and Research Addressing Soil Contamination and Urban Gardens

On April 24th CHE, along with our partners at Boston University Superfund Research Program, hosted the call Healthy Urban Gardens: Your Soil Health and You. You can find the full call recording on CHE’s website.

Two of the call’s speakers, Dr. Ramirez-Andreotta and Dr. Martin, talk further about their respective work on contaminated soil and urban gardening in this post.

Please be certain to see (below) the call for responses to a short survey from Kansas State University’s Department of Agronomy. Results from the survey will aid in evaluating potential health risks associated with gardening on previously used sites and in developing best management practices for gardeners growing on these sites.​ Read more below or see the survey on the KSU site.

Gardenroots Project

Dr. Ramirez-Andreotta nurtured a community-academic partnership that led to Gardenroots, a co-created public participation in scientific research program (citizen science). The Gardenroots project encompassed many of the key principles from informal science education, community-based participatory research, and popular epidemiology. Using low-cost sampling kits, rural community members neighboring a contaminated site collected soil, water and vegetable samples from their household garden.

Over the course of the research project, Dr. Ramirez-Andreotta provided multiple informal science learning experiences for the community, and together, they characterized the uptake of arsenic by homegrown vegetables near the Iron King Mine and Humboldt Smelter Superfund site. With the data, Dr. Ramirez-Andreotta designed individualized booklets to report back the “raw” data (i.e. milligrams of arsenic per kilogram of vegetable), how much they could eat from their garden at different excess target risks, and how their arsenic exposure from their vegetables compared to their drinking water and incidental soil ingestion. Dr. Ramirez-Andreotta designed attractive, graphically-rich materials for reporting back research data to participants and in effect, giving participants multiple ways to interpret their results proved to be successful and was an important research finding.

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Diabetes and the Environment: Arsenic

Sarah Howard
Coordinator, CHE’s Diabetes – Obesity Spectrum Working Group

This essay is reprinted with the author’s permission from her website: Diabetes and the Environment. See also CHE’s March 11th Partnership call: The Link Between Arsenic Exposure and Diabetes: A Review of the Current Research

Arsenic can be found naturally in drinking water. Millions of people worldwide rely on drinking water sources containing arsenic; in the U.S., about 13 million people live where arsenic levels in public drinking water supplies exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standard (Navas-Acien et al. 2008). In 2001, the US EPA lowered the drinking water standard for arsenic from 50 µg/L to 10 µg/L (10 ppb) (EPA). Arsenic has also been found in food, such as rice and conventional chicken (Nachman et al. 2013).


High Levels of Exposure: Human Studies

Numerous studies of people exposed to arsenic from Taiwan, Bangladesh, Mexico, and Sweden have shown that high levels of arsenic are associated with diabetes (Navas-Acien et al. 2006; Coronado-Gonzalez 2007; Del Razo et al. 2011), including one long-term prospective study (Tseng et al. 2000). A meta-analysis of data from 17 published articles with over 2 million participants found that arsenic in drinking water and in urine was associated with diabetes, with a 13% increased risk for every 100 µg arsenic/L in drinking water (Wang et al. 2014).

A review of the evidence by a panel of experts convened by the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) concluded that, “Existing human data provide limited to sufficient support for an association between arsenic and diabetes in populations with relatively high exposure levels (≥ 150 µg arsenic/L in drinking water)” (Maull et al. 2012). (In science-speak, that is actually pretty strong evidence).

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2010: Environmental Health Highlights of the Year

For our last CHE partner call of the year, we have decided to invite three national leaders to highlight what they think have been the top two or three research studies, reports, policy actions, seminal events, etc. in environmental health and justice in 2010—and why. We would also like to invite YOU to send in your thoughts on what have been prominent highlights or turning points (positive or challenging) during this past year and why. To offer your contributions, submit a comment to this post. Depending on time, we will try to mention some of your ideas on the call in addition to those of our presenters. We will also hold at least 20 minutes at the end of the call for questions and comments.

The call with be Wednesday December 8th
3:00 p.m. Eastern/Noon Pacific
Visit the call page on the CHE website.

We look forward to your participation.

Fueling the fire? How flame retardants might be doing more harm than good

Sarah Dunagan
Staff Scientist, Silent Spring Institute

The history of flame retardants stretches back at least as far as 450 B.C. when, as noted by Herodotus, the Egyptians soaked wood in alum. But it wasn’t until World War II, and the subsequent flush of highly flammable petroleum-based products into the market, that the flame retardants so popular today came into widespread use. The addition of these chemicals to our couches, TVs, and computers has soared in recent decades in response to flammability standards developed in the 1970s. Of course, we all want to protect ourselves and our families from fires. But the very regulations intended to protect us have unintentionally exposed us to chemicals that may be doing more harm than good. 

Mounting research suggests that flame retardants may cause neurological and reproductive harm, thyroid disruption, and cancer. What is the latest evidence from animal and human studies? Are some people disproportionately exposed? Do less toxic alternatives exist? How can the emerging research inform chemicals policy reform? We explored these questions on a teleconference hosted by the CHE-Fertility Working Group and the Women’s Health and Environment Initiative (WHEI) on April 15.

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