Celebrating 25 Years of Endocrine Disruptors Research

written by Elise Miller, MEd
Director
updated September 19, 2016

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.

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Violence: The Connection to Environmental Health and Justice

written by Elise Miller, MEd
Director

Violent events rock families and communities in the U.S. daily. But last week was particularly wrenching as we learned first of two incidents of extrajudicial shootings of black men by police—one in Louisiana, the other in Minnesota—followed by the killing of five police officers by an individual sniper at an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Texas. The complexities and causes of each case may be unique, but at the core is an abiding racism that continues to permeate our country.

Racism is perpetuated in multiple and insidious ways, such as the widening income gap, toxic stress, poor nutrition, lack of access to healthcare and to nature. Another factor intimately interconnected with these, but often overlooked, is exposure to pollutants and other toxic chemicals. We know that being exposed to heavy metals and neurotoxic chemicals can lead to cognitive deficits and developmental delays that in turn have been linked to juvenile delinquency and violent behavior. We know that many kids of color and low-income families are more likely to live in housing stock with lead paint and pipes and close to polluting industries. We know that during pregnancy poorer women are disproportionately exposed to harmful chemicals associated with learning and developmental disorders. We know that working-class parents often have to take the lowest-paying jobs, many of which require regular contact with contaminants linked to cognitive and behavioral problems. We know for most of these families the only food they can afford comes pre-packaged and contains toxic chemicals that can impact neurodevelopment.

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Unprecedented Alliance of Scientists, Health Professionals, & Advocates Agree Toxic Chemicals Are Hurting Brain Development

written by Ted Schettler, MD, MPH
Science Director

Ted SchettlerAn unprecedented alliance of leading scientists, health professionals, and children’s health advocates has come together to publish a consensus statement concluding that scientific evidence supports a causal link between exposures to toxic chemicals in food, air and everyday products and children’s risks for neurodevelopmental disorders. The alliance, known as Project TENDR, is calling for immediate action to significantly reduce exposures to toxic chemicals to protect brain development for today’s and tomorrow’s children.

Neurodevelopmental disorders include intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficits, hyperactivity, other maladaptive behaviors, and learning disabilities.  Project TENDR’s consensus statement is available on the Project TENDR website.

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Cell Phones, Cancer and Precaution

written by Elise Miller, MEd
Director 

The National Toxicology Program’s study on the potential health impacts of cell phone radiation published at the end of May has been called a potential “game-changer” by some leading researchers in the field. The preliminary findings of this study, the largest of its kind ever conducted, indicate that male rats exposed to radio-frequency (RF) radiation emitted from wireless devices have an increased risk of developing brain cancer (malignant glioma) and tumors on the heart (schwannomas). This affirms the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) decision in 2011 to classify RF radiation as “possibly carcinogenic” in humans. It also suggests that if IARC were to assess the emerging research from the last five years, it might have good reason to raise that classification to “probably carcinogenic.”
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Waste More, Want More: The Adage of the Age of Electronics

written by Elise Miller, MEd
Director 

NOTE: While CHE primarily highlights emerging environmental health science, we also occasionally bring attention to how this new research is being applied (or not) to decision-making in the marketplace and regulatory policies. 

Every day new mountains are being born—not because of shifting plate tectonics but due to electronic waste, the fastest growing source of waste in the world. This is not news to most people, but what may be surprising is that many of the old computers and phones you thought you were being responsibly recycled are actually being shipped thousands of miles overseas. This is according Basel Action Network, which partnered with MIT to put geo-tracking devices in old electronics to see where they actually ended up. In their investigation, reported Monday, it was found that almost a third of old electronics taken in by even a couple of the most reputable electronic recycling companies in the US went to other countries—despite these companies stating explicitly that they did not allow this practice.

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Scientific Consensus Statements on the Role of Environmental Chemicals in Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism

written by Sarah Howard
Coordinator of the Diabetes-Obesity Working Group

Sarah Howard

Two worldwide gatherings of experts have published consensus statements on the role of environmental chemicals in diabetes, obesity, and metabolism:

The Parma Statement was based on a workshop held in Parma, Italy, in May 2014, and the Uppsala Statement was based on a workshop held in Uppsala, Sweden, in October 2015.

Both focus on guiding future scientific research in the field, but also contain recommendations for policy makers, health care providers, and other professionals. Both call for reducing environmental chemical exposures, especially in early life, to help prevent the development of metabolic problems later in life.

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Infectious and Non-infectious Diseases: The Lines Begin to Blur

written by Elise Miller, MEd
Director 

Deaths from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) were estimated at 68% in 2012 globally, up from 60% in 2000, while deaths from infectious diseases are decreasing. This is according to the second edition of the World Health Organization’s report, “Preventing disease through healthy environments: a global assessment of the burden of disease from environmental risks“, published last month. The researchers found that environmental risk factors, including chemical exposures, pollutants in air, water and soil, climate change, and ultraviolet radiation, were primary contributors to these deaths.

What this tells us is the huge investment in preventing infectious diseases from philanthropic organizations, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is making a real difference, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. This also suggests that we are not doing nearly enough to address far more intractable and pervasive concerns that lead to NCDs, such as ensuring people have clean drinking water. It’s easier to distribute vaccines than, say, stop the use of pesticides, take the lead out of pipes, or prevent coal-burning power plants from being built.

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