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Feature Story
Bad Chemistry: A Special Report
Page 6

SHOW US THE MONEY   Given the strength of the science and the risks in play, it would seem that it is time to spend the money to do the testing and move the regulatory process forward. Unfortunately, the reverse seems to be happening. In 2003, 2004, and 2005, the Bush administration tried to cut all EPA funding for independent scientists who do endocrine-disruptor research. While these efforts failed, the total budget for those three years was still less than $15 million. (By contrast, Japan recently spent $135 million on a research program and has identified some 70 chemicals as endocrine disruptors.)

Spokespeople for chemical companies maintain that the levels at which humans are exposed to endocrine disruptors are not dangerous. Marian Stanley at the American Chemical Council states: "The consensus of the research is clear that there is no evidence that humans have been adversely affected by environmental exposures to endocrine active substances…and there is not convincing evidence of a growing human health issue." Still, there are signs that manufacturers have read the handwriting on the wall and are making changes to avoid liability suits down the line. Procter & Gamble has removed dibutyl phthalate (DBP) from all products that it sells around the world. Unilever, Revlon and L'Oréal have pledged to take chemicals banned in Europe out of any products they sell here. Baxter International is developing an alternative to phthalates for its medical bags and tubes. And methoxychlor, one of the pesticides Michael Skinner tested that showed endocrine damage through four generations, quietly disappeared from the U.S. market last year when Drexel Chemical failed to re-register it with the EPA.

Colborn is encouraged by these developments, but she is still extremely worried because these few withdrawals "don't begin to clean up the womb environment." Solomon worries, too, particularly with regard to food production and supply. "Every time a pesticide is re-registered by the EPA, the registration contains a boilerplate statement that there is no evidence that this chemical causes endocrine disruption, but that after tests are approved there may need to be additional testing. In the meantime, that chemical may be affecting the health of hundreds of thousands of farm workers or millions of people who eat the crops that are sprayed with that chemical."

In addition to the chemicals already released into the environment, 2,000 new chemicals go to market every year, and each may have the potential to be another DDT, a DES, a PCB, all of which turned out to be powerful endocrine disruptors. The biggest hurdle to solving the problem is funding. Colborn and others have proposed that those who profit from these chemicals be made financially responsible for determining the environmental safety of their products. Money could be paid by manufacturers into a trust, or directly to the government, so that manufacturers could not influence the outcome of the testing.

Instead of drifting along for years, nibbling away at the problem of how to remove endocrine disruptors from the environment, Colborn hopes we will throw our collective will and enough resources into finishing the job as quickly as possible. "Think of how many billions we've spent on cancer research. If these chemicals threaten our ability to reproduce, then we ought to be spending at least as much money on understanding how they work and whether we need to get them out of our environment," she says. "If we can't reproduce, whether we get cancer or not will be a moot point."

Forecast: Dry and Brutal
Mammoth Mystery

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OnEarth. Winter 2006
Copyright 2005 by the Natural Resources Defense Council