For years researchers have been investigating the hypothesis that trace levels of such industrial chemicals as pesticides, chlorinated compounds, and heavy metals are hazardous to human health. Although studies have failed to establish a causal relationship, some scientists and activist groups continue to emphasize the role of trace levels of synthetic chemicals in human illness. This continuing focus may be attributed, in part, to our increased ability to detect low levels of chemicals in the environment. It may also stem, however, from a collective¬and often irrational¬fear of such substances.
In this report the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) explores the endocrine disrupter hypothesis, which asserts that certain (primarily man-made) chemicals act as, or interfere with, human hormones (specifically estrogens) in the body and thus cause a range of defects and diseases related to the endocrine system. This report also evaluates the possible implications of endocrine disrupters¬more appropriately called “endocrine modulators”¬for human health.
The following points are central to ACSH’s analysis:
When examining the endocrine disrupter hypothesis, as with any other hypothesis, it is important to validate studies and novel findings before the media and others publicize them prematurely, exaggerate the evidence, and create undue alarm. Unfortunately, once irrational fears have been aroused, it becomes difficult to distinguish real risk from hypothetical risk.
The lack of quick results and definite answers can be frustrating, both to the public and to policymakers, who are often pressured by their constituents to impose the “precautionary principle”: Act now and confirm the truth later. But we must proceed objectively, using sound scientific principles¬or we will find ourselves misdirecting valuable public resources, both intellectual and financial.