Effects of Endocrine Disruptors on
Human and Wildlife Health
This chapter briefly describes the endocrine system and the role it plays in survival and quality of life for both wildlife and humans. It provides evidence that products and chemical by-products of modern technology can pose a threat to the future integrity of many species on the earth, including humans. Two studies are presented in which reported untoward health effects in wildlife led to studies to determine whether the same effects were being expressed in humans. Based on insight gained from the two studies, the need for welldirected, long-term research that involves wildlife, human, and laboratory collaborations is discussed.
The endocrine system comprises the sex organs (mammary glands, ovaries, uterus, testes, and prostate), brain (which includes the pituitary and the hippocampus), thyroid, adrenals, thymus, and pancreas, to mention the more familiar organs. It operates through the use of chemical messengers called hormones, produced by the organs. This system controls the metabolism of fat, response to stress, how the brain develops, daily function, maturation, and senescence. It controls how the immune system functions to protect animals from infection, and most important, it controls sexual development and the ability to reproduce. Historically, the endocrine system assured the integrity and survival of animals— until humans began to produce large quantities of synthetic chemicals that interfere with the hormones and other chemical messengers that control development.