Journal Article

Uncertainties for Endocrine Disrupters: Our View on Progress

George P. Daston, Jon C. Cook and Robert J. Kavlock

in Toxicological Sciences

Volume 74, issue 2, pages 245-252
Published in print August 2003 | ISSN: 1096-6080
Published online August 2003 | e-ISSN: 1096-0929 | DOI:
Uncertainties for Endocrine Disrupters: Our View on Progress

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The hypothesis that hormonally active compounds in the environment—endocrine disrupters—are having a significant impact on human and ecological health has captured the public’s attention like no other toxicity concern since the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring 1962. In the early 1990s, Theo Colborn and others began to synthesize information about the potential impacts of endocrine-mediated toxicity in the scientific literature (Colborn and Clement, 1992) and the popular press (Colborn et al., 1997). Recognizing the possibility of an emerging health threat, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) convened two international workshops in 1995 (Ankley et al., 1997; Kavlock et al., 1996) that identified research needs relative to future risk assessments for endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These workshops identified effects on reproductive, neurological, and immunological function, as well as carcinogenesis as the major endpoints of concern and made a number of recommendations for research. Subsequently, the EPA developed a research strategy to begin addressing the recommendations (EPA, 1998a), and the federal government as a whole, working through the White House’s Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources, increased funding levels and coordinated research programs to fill the major data gaps (Reiter et al., 1998).

In parallel with these research efforts that were attempting to define the scope and nature of the endocrine disruptor hypothesis, the U.S. Congress added provisions to the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) and the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1996 to require the testing of food-use pesticides and drinking water contaminants, respectively, for estrogenicity and other hormonal activity. These bills were enacted into law, giving the EPA the mandate to implement them. The EPA, with the help of an external advisory committee, the Endocrine Disruptor Screening and Testing Advisory Committee (EDSTAC), determined that other hormonal activity should include androgens and compounds that affect thyroid function, and expanded the mandate to include all chemicals under EPA’s jurisdiction, potentially including the 70,000 chemicals regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act (Endocrine Disruptor Screening and Testing Advisory Committee [EDSTAC], 1998). EDSTAC recommended an extensive process of prioritization, screening, and testing of chemicals for endocrine-disrupting activity, including a screening battery that involves a combination of at least eight in vitro and in vivo assays spanning a number of taxa (EDSTAC, 1998). What started out as a hypothesis has become one of the biggest testing programs conceived in the history of toxicology and the only one that has ever been based on mechanism of action as its premise.

As we pass the 10th anniversary of the emergence of the endocrine disruptor hypothesis, it is useful to look back on the progress that has been made in answering the nine questions posed as data gaps in the EPA’s research strategy (EPA, 1998a)—not only to see what we have learned, but also to examine whether the questions are still appropriate for the goal, what gaps remain, and what directions should be emphasized in the future.

Journal Article.  7153 words. 

Subjects: Medical Toxicology ; Toxicology (Non-medical)

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