Part 2. OUR STOLEN FUTURE - Continuation of the book review by
W.R. Moomaw in Chem. & Eng. News 1996, 74(14), 34-35.
...Admittedly, much of the evidence is not causative but correlative,
such as relationship between high doses of PCB in mothers milk and
behavioral problems in their offspring. More solid data are the
reproductive problems found in children of women taking the artificial
hormone diethylstilbestrol during pregnancy, the estrogen-like
proliferation response of breast cells to alkyl phenols leached from
some plastic ware (plastic food wraps!).
Importantly, there is a need for large-scale synthesis of information
buried in separate scientific specialties. Colborn deserves credit for
seeking out experts in different fields and reading a vast number of
research papers to create this synthesis. Continued support of
disciplinary-specific research is still needed but a portion of the
research budget could also be spent on attempts to synthesize and
integrate findings from individual fields.
The book demonstates how scientists and funding agencies become
captives of existing paradigms. One example is the imbalance between
the amount of money spent to find cancer genes, about which we can
do little, and the low level of support to study the sources and
mechanisms of cancers caused by diet and agents in the environment.
Most of the regulatory debate of the past 20 years has been shaped
by the idea that chemically induced alterations to DNA can cause birth
defects, and cancer. But dioxins could more likely be dangerous
because of their effects on the endocrine system rather than on DNA.
Dismissing the book because of several shortcomings, or because
one sees it as an attack on chemicals will only be undermine public
confidence in chemists and the chemical industry. We have moved a
long way since "Silent Spring" when the response of a defensive
industrial community was denial, and even Chem. Eng. News joined in
titling its review of the book: Silence, Miss Carson. With successful
industry-sponsored programs like Responsible Care, initiatives like ISO
14000, pledges such as the Business Center for Sustainable
Development, and general compliance with the EPA's Toxic Release
Inventory, it's hard to imagine a return to the reflexive lashing out
against "Silent Spring".
The authors make clear: there are many gaps in the proposed links
between very low levels of chemicals and the observed
endocrine-related anatomical / behavioral anomalies. Yet, the
extensive environmental distribution of synthetic chemicals and the
demonstrated impact of exposure to minuscule doses of endocrine
mimics at critical times during fetal development require a credible
Though some aspects of the book will be annoying to many
chemists, ignoring its message would be a mistake. Neither the public
nor political leaders are likely to ignore an alleged threat to the
reproductive future of our own species. The book has already played
a role in the decision to convene a panel of the National Academy of
Sciences to conduct a two-year evaluation of endocrine disrupters.
Increasing support to test the validity of the proposed links will
challenge the discipline-based funding structures at agencies like NSF
and NIH. The chemical industry might create a fund to support
independent, peer-reviewed hypothesis testing, as it did for the ozone
depletion issue. At the very least, the public and the scientific
community should demand an open debate on the scientific merits of