Magazine article Alternatives Journal

The Endocrine Game

Magazine article Alternatives Journal

The Endocrine Game

Article excerpt

WITH CONCERNS RISING about the regulation of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which are responsible for a range of cognitive and hormonal disorders, the US Environmental Protection Agency put out a report in June 2013 claiming that nothing is wrong, keep calm and carry on. The EPA's intent was to counter a June 2012 report by Laura Vandenberg of Tufts University and 11 other researchers, who argued that "fundamental changes in chemical testing and safety determination are needed to protect human health." In response to the EPA's assurance this summer, Vandenberg told the Environmental Health News that the organization's conclusion "flies in the face of our knowledge of how hormones work."

Much of the fuss hinges on the premise that "the dose makes the poison," a phrase coined 500 years ago by a German-Swiss physician named Paracelsus. This modus operandi has since guided toxicology research and regulation. To toxicologists, this premise is known as a monotonic response (see graphic at bottom left), in which an increase in concentration leads to an increase in impact, and vice versa.

When regulators determine a "safe dosage" of a given toxin, their approach is grounded in their belief in monotonic response. Toxicologists inform such decisions by measuring responses to progressively lower dosages of a substance until reaching an amount with no observable adverse effect level (NOAEL) on a test subject. To be safe--and to account for uncertainty in data, significant species distinctions between the lab animals and humans, and other factors--they divide the NOAEL dose by a safety factor to determine the regulatory limit for exposure. …

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