Our stolen future. The threat of endocrine disruptors

Our stolen future. The threat of endocrine disruptors

By José Santamarta

Our Stolen Future, written by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski and Pete Myers, brought together for the first time the alarming evidence obtained in field studies, laboratory experiments and human statistics, to pose in scientific terms, but accessible to all, the case of this new danger.

In 1962 Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring gave the first warning that certain man-made chemicals had spread across the planet, contaminating virtually all living things even in the most remote wilderness. That landmark book presented evidence of the impact these synthetic substances had on birds and other wildlife. But until now the full
consequences of this insidious invasion, which is disrupting sexual development and reproduction, not only of many animal populations, but also of humans.

Our Stolen Future, written by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and Pete Myers, brought together for the first time the startling evidence from field studies, laboratory experiments, and human statistics, to
raise in scientific terms, but accessible to all, the case of this new danger. It begins where Silent Spring ended, revealing the root causes of the symptoms that so alarmed Carson.
Drawing on decades of research, the authors present an impressive report that tracks birth defects, sexual abnormalities, and reproductive failures in wild populations, right down to their
origin: chemical substances that supplant natural hormones, disrupting normal processes of reproduction and development.

The authors of Our Stolen Future review scientific research linking these problems to "endocrine disruptors," chemical scammers that make it difficult for adults to reproduce and threaten their developing offspring with serious danger. They explain how these pollutants have become an integral part of our industrial economy, spreading with amazing ease throughout the world.
biosphere, from the Equator to the poles. And they study what we can and should do to combat this omnipresent danger. Our Stolen Future, as Al Gore, Vice President of the United States and author of the foreword, points out, is a book by
Transcendental importance, which forces us to ask ourselves new questions about the synthetic chemicals that we have spread throughout the Earth.

Endocrine disruptors

A large number of man-made chemicals that have been released into the environment, as well as some natural ones, have the potential to disrupt the endocrine system of animals, including humans. These include persistent, bioaccumulative and
organohalogens including some pesticides (fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides) and industrial chemicals, other synthetics, and some heavy metals.

Many animal populations have already been affected by these substances. Impacts include thyroid dysfunction in birds and fish; decreased fertility in birds, fish, crustaceans and mammals; the
decreased incubation success in birds, fish and turtles; severe birth deformities in birds, fish, and turtles; metabolic abnormalities in birds, fish, and mammals; behavioral abnormalities in
birds; overculinization and feminization of male fish, birds and mammals; defeminization and masculinization of fish and female birds; and danger to immune systems in birds and mammals.

Endocrine disruptors interfere with the functioning of the hormonal system through one of three mechanisms: supplanting natural hormones, blocking their action, or increasing or decreasing their
levels. Endocrine disrupting chemicals are not classic poisons or typical carcinogens. They follow different rules. Some hormonally active chemicals appear to pose little risk of

At levels normally found in the environment, hormone disrupting chemicals do not kill cells or attack DNA. Its target is hormones, chemical messengers that constantly move within the body's communication network. The substances
Hormonally active synthetic chemicals are criminals on the biological information highway that sabotage vital communications. They rob the messengers or impersonate them. The signs change places. They stir the
messages. They sow misinformation. They cause all kinds of havoc. Since hormonal messages organize many critical aspects of development, from sexual differentiation to brain organization, the
Hormone-disrupting chemicals pose a special danger before birth and in the early stages of life. Endocrine disruptors can endanger the survival of entire species, perhaps even the human species in the long term.

Patterns of the effects of endocrine disruptors vary from species to species and from substance to substance. However, four general statements can be made:

* Chemicals of concern can have entirely different effects on the embryo, fetus, or perinatal organism than on the adult;

* The effects are more common in the offspring than in the exposed parent;

* The timing of exposure in the developing organism is decisive in determining its character and future potential;

* Although critical exposure occurs during embryonic development, obvious manifestations may not occur until maturity.

The human species lacks evolutionary experience with these synthetic compounds. These artificial estrogen mimics differ in fundamental ways from plant estrogens. Our bodies are capable of breaking down and excreting natural estrogen mimics, but many of the man-made compounds resist normal decomposition processes and accumulate in the body, subjecting humans and animals to
a low-level but long-term exposure. This pattern of chronic exposure to hormonal substances is unprecedented in our evolutionary history, and adapting to this new danger would take millennia, not decades.

The chemical industry prefers to think that since so many natural estrogens already exist in nature, such as soybeans, there is no need to worry about synthetic chemicals that interfere with hormones. However, it is important to take into account the differences that
they exist between natural and synthetic hormonal impostors. Artificial hormone mimics pose a greater danger than natural compounds, because they can persist in the body for years, whereas plant estrogens can be eliminated within a day.

No one yet knows how much endocrine disrupting chemicals are necessary to pose a hazard to humans. The data indicate that they could be very small if exposure occurs before birth. In the case of dioxins, recent studies have shown that exposure to minute doses is dangerous.

Most of us carry several hundred persistent chemicals in our bodies, including many that have been identified as endocrine disruptors. On the other hand, we carry them in concentrations that multiply by several thousands the natural levels of
free estrogens, that is, estrogens that are not bound by blood proteins and are therefore biologically active.

Insignificant amounts of free estrogen have been found to alter the course of development in utero; as insignificant as a tenth of a trillion. Endocrine disrupting chemicals can work together, and small, seemingly insignificant amounts of individual chemicals can have a significant cumulative effect. The discovery that there may be chemicals that disrupt the hormonal system in unexpected places, including some
Products that were considered biologically inert such as plastics, has challenged traditional ideas about the exhibition.

Effects on Humans

Humans have been affected by endocrine disruptors. The effect of DES (diethylstilbestrol), an estrogenic agent, was a clear warning. The cancer paradigm is insufficient because chemicals can cause serious health effects other than cancer.

Of great concern is the increasing frequency of genital abnormalities in boys, such as undescended testes (cryptorchidism), extremely small penises, and hypospadias, a defect in which the urine-carrying urethra does not extend to the end of the penis. In the areas of
intensive cultivation in the province of Granada, where endosulfan and other pesticides are used, 360 cases of cryptorchidism have been registered. Some animal studies indicate that exposure to hormonally active chemicals in the prenatal period or in the
Adulthood increases vulnerability to hormone-sensitive cancers, such as malignant tumors of the breast, prostate, ovaries, and uterus.

Among the effects of endocrine disruptors is the increase in cases of testicular cancer and endometriosis, a condition in which the tissue that normally lines the uterus mysteriously travels to the abdomen, ovaries, bladder or intestine, causing growths causing pain, heavy bleeding, infertility, and other problems.

The most dramatic and worrying sign that endocrine disruptors may have already taken a significant toll is found in reports that the quantity and motility of sperm cells
males has plummeted in the last half century. The initial study, conducted by a Danish team led by Dr. Niels Skakkebaek and published in the British Medical Journal in September 1992, found
that the average number of male sperm had dropped by 45 percent, from an average of 113 million per milliliter of semen in 1940 to just 66 million per milliliter in 1990. At the same time, the volume of
Ejaculated semen had dropped by 25 percent, so the actual drop in sperm was equal to 50 percent. During this period the number of men with extremely low sperm counts had tripled, on the order of 20 million per
milliliter. In Spain it has gone from an average of 336 million sperm per ejaculation in 1977 to 258 million in 1995. The decrease threatens the male fertilizing capacity. To continue the trend
Today, within 50 years, men may be unable to reproduce naturally, having to rely on artificial insemination techniques or in vitro fertilization.

Prenatal exposure to hormone-mimicking chemicals may also be exacerbating the most common medical problem that affects aging men: painful growth of the prostate gland, which makes it difficult to excrete urine and often requires surgical intervention. In Western countries, 80 percent of men show signs of this condition by age 70, and 45 percent of men suffer from a
severe gland growth. In the last two decades there has been a spectacular increase in this disease.

The DES experience and animal studies also suggest a link between endocrine disrupting chemicals and various reproductive problems in women, especially abortions, ectopic pregnancies, and endometriosis. Endometriosis affects five million American women today. At the beginning of the century, endometriosis was a practically unknown disease. Women with endometriosis have higher levels of PCBs in their blood than women without endometriosis. Different studies coincide in pointing out that between 60 and 70
percent of pregnancies fail in the initial embryonic phase and another 10 percent end in the first weeks due to spontaneous abortion.

But by far the most alarming health trend for women is the rising rate of breast cancer, which is the most common female cancer. Since 1940, at the dawn of the chemical age, deaths from breast cancer
they have risen in the US by 1 percent per year, and similar increases have been reported in other industrialized countries.

Chemical industry

Our stolen future opens a new horizon, which will most likely conclude with new international treaties, as it happened with the
CFCs that deplete the ozone layer, and despite opposition from the chemical industries. Currently about 100,000 synthetic chemicals can be found on the market. Every year 1,000 new
substances, most without proper verification and review. In the best case, the world's existing testing facilities can test only 500 substances per year. In reality, only a small part of this figure is actually put to the test. Fifty-one chemicals have already been identified that alter the hormonal system, but the possible hormonal effects of the vast majority are unknown. One of the most disturbing aspects of endocrine disruptors is that some of the
its effects occur with very low doses.

The current standards governing the marketing of synthetic chemicals have been developed on the basis of the risk of cancer and serious birth defects and calculate these risks for an adult male weighing around 70 kilograms. They do not take into account the special vulnerability of children before birth and in the early stages of life, and the effects on the hormonal system. Official standards and toxicity test methods currently evaluate each chemical on its own. In the real world, we find complex mixtures of chemicals. There is never just one. Scientific studies clearly show that chemicals can interact or work together to produce a greater effect than they would individually (synergy). Current laws ignore these additive or interactive effects.

Manufacturers use trade secret laws to deny the public access to information about the composition of their products. As long as manufacturers do not put full labels on their products,
consumers will not have the information they need to protect themselves from hormonally active products. In some cases, chemicals can break down into substances that pose a greater hazard than the original chemical.

The chemical industry tries to discredit the conclusions of Our Stolen Future, as it did until recently with CFCs, or as the tobacco industry's campaigns denying the relationship between smoking and lung cancer. The Chemical Manufacturers Association, an entity that brings together the largest multinational companies in the chemical industry, the Chlorine Chemistry Council, the American Plastics Council, the Society of the Plastics Industry and the American Crop Protection Association (the large
pesticide manufacturers), have raised large amounts of money from their associates to launch a campaign against the book Our Stolen Future. When Rachel Carson's book Spring was published in 1962
Silent Spring, the Chemical Manufacturers Association magazine titled the book review "Silence, Miss Carson." The chlorine industry, grouped in the Chlorine Council, which groups together companies such as DuPont, Dow, Oxychem and Vulcan, spends annually in the United States 150 million dollars (more than 20 billion pesetas) on image and information poisoning campaigns . In Spain the company commissioned by PVC manufacturers to intoxicate public opinion is Burson-Marsteller.

Thirty-five years later, the same industry that nearly wiped out ozone, caused the Bhopal accident, and manufactures thousands of toxic substances, is faced with the challenge of Our Stolen Future. The Burson-Marsteller, Edelman and Hill & Knowlton companies, dedicated to the image washing of the tobacco industry, dictators, PVC and polluting companies, many of them in the chemical sector, carry out intoxication campaigns against scientists, journalists and non-governmental organizations, trying to prevent, or at least reduce, the effects of books like Our Stolen Future and dozens of scientific studies, reports and articles on the effects of chemicals that act as endocrine disruptors.

A good proof of the correctness of the conclusions of the book Our Stolen Future is that the United States government spent between 20 and 30 million dollars in 400 projects to analyze the effects of the substances
chemicals in the endocrine system. The goal of the US Environmental Agency (EPA) is to develop a strategy to investigate and test 600 pesticides and 72,000 synthetic chemicals for commercial use in the United States, in order to analyze their effects as
possible endocrine disruptors. The National Academy of Sciences in the United States has undertaken a comprehensive study to delve into the dangers of endocrine disruptors. Rare is the month that an article is not published
in the most prestigious scientific journals confirming and deepening the dangers of chemical substances.

The world market for pesticides accounted for about 2 million tonnes in 1999, and included 1,600 chemicals. World consumption continues to grow. Pesticides are a special class of chemicals in that they are biologically active by design and are intentionally dispersed in the environment. Today 30 times more synthetic pesticides are used in the United States than in 1945. In this same period, the
Biocidal power per kilogram of chemicals has multiplied by 10. 35 percent of food consumed has detectable pesticide residues. The testing methods, however, only detect a third of the more than 600 pesticides in use. The contamination of
food for pesticides is often much higher in developing countries.

Take back our stolen future

Defending ourselves against this risk requires action on several fronts with the intention of eliminating new sources of endocrine disruption and minimizing exposure to contaminants that interfere with the hormonal system and that
now they are in the environment. This will require more scientific research; redesign of chemical substances, production processes and products by companies; new government policies; and personal efforts to protect ourselves and our families. Organic farming, without pesticides and other
chemical substances, is a sustainable and viable alternative.

With 100,000 synthetic chemicals on the market worldwide and 1,000 more new substances each year, there is little hope of discovering their fate on ecosystems or their effects on humans and other living things until the damage is done. It is necessary to reduce the number of chemicals used in a given product and to manufacture and market only those chemicals that can be easily detected
with current technology and whose degradation in the environment is known.

These substances have not altered the basic genetic blueprint that underlies our humanity. Eliminate the disruptors of the mother and the uterus and the chemical messages that guide development will be able to arrive again without hindrance. But protecting the next generation from endocrine disruptors will require years and even decades of vigilance, because the doses that reach the fetus depend not only on what the mother ingests during pregnancy, but also on persistent contaminants accumulated in fat. until that point in his life. Women transfer this chemical reserve accumulated over decades to their children during pregnancy and during lactation.

The current system assumes that chemicals are innocent until proven otherwise. The burden of proof must act in the opposite way, because the current approach, the presumption of innocence, one and
it has again made people sick and damaged ecosystems. Evidence for hormonally active chemicals should be used to identify those that pose the greatest risk and to
remove them from the market. Every new product must undergo this test before it is allowed to go on the market. Risk assessment is now used to keep dangerous products on the market until they are
prove they are guilty. International and national policies must be based on the precautionary principle.

A proper policy to reduce the threat of hormone disrupting chemicals requires an immediate ban on pesticides.
like endosulfan and methoxychlor, fungicides like vinclozolin, herbicides like atrazine, alkylphenols, phthalates and bisphenol-A. To avoid the generation of dioxins, the progressive elimination of PVC, perchlorethylene, all chlorinated pesticides,
chlorine pulp bleaching and waste incineration.

Chemicals with disruptive effects on the endocrine system

Chemicals with disruptive effects on the endocrine system include:

* dioxins and furans, which are generated in the production of chlorine and chlorinated compounds, such as PVC or organochlorine pesticides, the chlorine bleaching of paper pulp and the incineration of waste.

* PCBs, currently banned. Concentrations in human tissues have remained constant in recent years even though most industrialized countries ended the production of PCBs more than a decade ago, because two-thirds of the PCBs produced at all times are still in use in transformers or other electrical equipment and therefore may be subject to accidental release. As they move up the food chain, the concentration of PCBs in animal tissues can increase up to 25 million times.

* numerous pesticides, some prohibited and others not, such as DDT and its degradation products, lindane, methoxychlor (authorized in Spain), synthetic pyrethroids, triazine herbicides, kepona, dieldrin, vinclozolin, dicofol and chlordane, among others.

* the pesticide endosulfan, widely used in Spanish agriculture, despite being banned in many countries.

* HCB (hexachlorobenzene), used in organic synthesis, as a fungicide for treating seeds and as a wood preservative.

* Phthalates, used in the manufacture of PVC. 95 percent of DEHP (di (2-ethylexyl) phthalate) is used in the manufacture of PVC.

* alkylphenols, antioxidants present in modified polystyrene and PVC, and as breakdown products of detergents. P-nonylphenol belongs to the family of synthetic chemicals called alkylphenols. Manufacturers add nonylphenols to
polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), as an antioxidant so that these plastics are more stable and less brittle. One study found that the food processing and packaging industry used PVC that
they contained alkylphenols. Another reported the finding of nonylphenol contamination in water that had passed through PVC pipes. The breakdown of chemicals in industrial detergents, pesticides, and personal care products can also give rise to nonylphenol.

* Bisphenol-A, widely used in the food industry (internal coating of tin metal containers) and by dentists (dental fillings). One of the pioneering researchers on
the effects of bisphenol-A is the Spanish physician Nicolás Olea.


* T. Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers, "Our Stolen Future" (New York: Penguin Books, 1996). Edition in Spanish: Our stolen future, by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski and Pete Myers (1997); Ecoespaña and Gaia-Project 2050, Madrid.

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* Michael D. Lemonick "What’s Wrong With Our Sperm?" Time, March 18, 1996.

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* J.

* Thomas M. Crisp et al. "Environmental Endocrine Disruption: An Effects Assessment and Analysis" Environmental Health Perspectives, February 1998. Sharpe et al. "Gestational and Lactational Exposure of Rats to Xenoestrogens Results in Reduced Testicular Size and Sperm Production"
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* Betsy Carpenter "Investigating the Next‘ Silent Spring ’" News & World Report, March 11, 1996.

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* Marla Cone"River Pollution Linked to Sex Defects in Fish" Los Angeles Times, 22 Septiembre 1998. * Frederick S. Vom Saal y Daniel M. Sheehan"Challenging Risk Assessment"
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* Janet Raloff"That Feminine Touch" Science News, 22 enero 1994. * B. Field et al."Reproductive Effects of Environmental Agents" Series in Reproductive Endocrinology, vol. 8 (1990).

* Japan Studies Drop in Sperm Counts, Nature, 29 Octubre 1998. * Colin Macilwain"US Panel Split on Endocrine Disruptors" Nature, 29 Octubre 1998

* José Santamarta. – Revisor y coeditor de la edición en castellano del libro Nuestro Futuro Robado, director de Gaia y de la edición en castellano de la revista World Watch.
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