Screening For Endocrine Disrupting Pesticides

By Dan Shapley
News Editor

The Daily Green, June 2007

More than 10 years after being directed to do so by Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency will test 73 pesticides for their potential to damage the endocrine system and disrupt the normal functioning of hormones in the body, the agency announced this afternoon in a short conference call with reporters.

More than 2,000 chemicals are introduced to the American marketplace every year, and most are not screened for toxicity, according to watchdog groups. Even those that are, frequently, do not get tested for endocrine disrupting potential.

The EPA will test 73 pesticides that people most often come into contact with in homes and workplaces — including pesticides that have been found in trace amounts on foods, and in drinking water. The EPA chose the chemicals from among 690 that people may be exposed to in homes, at work, by eating food or drinking water.

The 73 chemicals that show the potential to disrupt the endocrine system during a battery of tests that will be developed this year, then subjected to peer review. Actual testing won’t take place until 2008, and any chemicals determined to have potential endocrine disrupting ability will be subjected to a second round of more intensive testing. The public can comment on the draft list of chemicals for 90 days, after which the EPA will consider the comments, make any changes it deems necessary, and then begin to develop the tests.

“Ultimately this program will determine whether these chemicals disrupt the endocrine system,” said Jim Gulliford, the EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances. He said the data collected would be “comprehensive and scientifically sound.”

Critics said the EPA’s program has been delayed for no legitimate reason, that studies already show several chemicals meet criteria to be considered endocrine disruptors and that some of the testing protocols the EPA has proposed are flawed. The EPA was sued by the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1999 for missing early deadlines in the Congressionally mandated program. The list published today was first supposed to be issued in 1997, and after the court settlement with NRDC, was to be published in 2002, according to NRDC scientist Sarah Janssen.

“We already have enough infomation about many of these chemicals on the list to know they’re endocrine disruptors without putting them through a Tier I screening which is probably going to be delayed for probably two years,” Jenssen said.

The endocrine system is made up of hormones, the various glands that produce them, and the many bodily functions regulated by the chemical messengers. Chemicals that mimic, block or disrupt the normal function of hormones are known as endocrine disruptors.

Animal studies have demonstrated endocrine-disrupting effects of several once-common industrial chemicals and pesticides. Many other chemicals are suspected of having endocrine-disrupting potential. The effects on humans are, largely, unknown, but health and environmental advocates say it’s wise to limit exposure to many chemicals, particularly women of childbearing age, pregnant women and children under the age of 15.

The American Chemistry Council called the EPA’s announcement an “important milestone,” but cautioned that the agency still has to finalize its testing procedures.

“Additionally, we echo EPA’s statement that this is a candidate list of substances to screen for potential interaction with the endocrine system,” the industry group said in a prepared statement. “It is not a list of endocrine disruptors or potential endocrine disruptors and EPA has not determined the potential endocrine related risks of the substances.”

In all, there are thousands chemicals that must be screened as directed by the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996. In addition to 1,077 active ingredients, there are more than 5,000 inactive and inert ingredients in pesticides used in the United States.

“All pesticide chemicals must be tested, both active and inert ingredients,” said Clifford Gabriel, the EPA’s director of the Office of Science Coordination and Policy.

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