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 Vandenberg (Credit: umass.edu)
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.
interview by Karin Gunther Russ
Coordinator of CHE’s Fertility and Reproductive Health Working Group
Dr. Jeanne Conry of American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Congratulations on receiving the Pacific Southwest EPA’s award for Children’s Environmental Health! What first brought you into environmental health work?
I had been working on preconception health care since 1998 when the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, District IX (California) collaborated with the March of Dimes efforts to create guidelines on preconception health to meet Healthy People 2000 goals. The same group of professionals got together as a preconception health council in mid 2000. Reducing preconceptional exposure to chemicals was not part of the plan at the time.
Dr. Hani Atrash from the CDC was at the preconception health council, and connected me with Dr. Tracey Woodruff at the UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE). Tracey came to the group and started doing her talks, and I knew we had to address environmental exposures and reproductive health.
What is your primary mission in your work?
Currently, physicians are not used to incorporating the results of environmental health studies into their clinical practice. More and more research is showing that chemicals and other environmental factors are negatively impacting fertility, pregnancy and fetal development. Clinicians need to be able to access that information, but in a practical way.
Karin Russ, MS, RN, CHE’s Fertility and Reproductive Health Working Group Coordinator
Years ago, I was a nurse caring for a patient who had just had her sixth miscarriage. She was, as one might expect, emotionally devastated and searching for answers as to why this might have happened. At the time, some potential physiological causes were examined, but environmental factors were not considered.
As CHE celebrates its 10th anniversary, significant progress has been made toward educating professionals and the public on environmental contributors to infertility, early pregnancy loss, and impacts on the developing fetus. Since CHE’s early years, the Fertility and Reproductive Health Working Group has sought to bring attention to the growing body of research linking environmental factors to problems with reproductive health. In the male, many environmental agents are associated with decreased sperm quality and increased risk of prostate cancer. Women are more susceptible to endometriosis, polycystic ovary disease, and problems with in vitro fertilization following exposure to some environmental chemicals. A substantial body of scientific literature demonstrates the crucial nature of fetal environmental exposures on developmental origins of adult health and disease.
Reps. Doyle and Murphy are well positioned to help protect us
CHE Partner and Director of the Healthy Children Project for the Learning Disabilities Association of America
This letter was originally published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It’s republished here with the author’s permission.
Imagine all the chemicals used in televisions, computers, upholstery, car seats, building materials, even children’s pajamas. Imagine that some of these chemicals migrate from products into dust and dirt, and build up in our bodies. They are found in the cord blood of newborns and in breast milk. Imagine that these chemicals are similar in structure to the notorious PCBs – carcinogens banned from use in the late 1970s.
Now wouldn’t you also imagine that these chemicals were tested and found to be safe to human health before they were allowed into our products and homes?
Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Polybrominated diphyenyl ethers are flame retardant chemicals that persist in the environment and build up in the food chain and in people. Laboratory studies link exposure to PBDEs with lowered IQ and attention problems. This summer, a study of pregnant women found that those with higher levels of PBDEs had reduced levels of thyroid hormone, which is essential to a baby’s brain development.
But despite growing scientific evidence linking toxic chemical exposures to serious disease and disability, our government does not require that PBDEs – or any of the other 80,000 chemicals on the market – be tested for effects on human health.
That could be about to change, and two Pittsburgh members of Congress are in key positions to help make it happen.