There is evidence that domestic animals and wildlife have suffered adverseconsequences from exposure to environmental chemicals that interact withthe endocrine system. These problems have been identified primarily inspecies exposed to relatively high concentrations of organochlorine pesticides,PCBs, dioxins, as well as synthetic and plant-derived estrogens. Whethersimilar effects are occurring in the general human or wildlife populationsfrom exposures to ambient environmental concentrations is unknown. Forexample, while there have been reports of declines in the quantity andquality of sperm production in humans over the last four decades, otherstudies show no decrease. Reported increases in incidences of certain cancers(breast, testes, prostate) may also be related to endocrine disruption.Because the endocrine system plays a critical role in normal growth, development,and reproduction, even small disturbances in endocrine function may haveprofound and lasting effects. This is especially true during highly sensitiveprenatal periods, such that small changes in endocrine status may havedelayed consequences that are evident much later in adult life or in asubsequent generation. Furthermore, the potential for synergistic effectsfrom multiple contaminants exists. The seriousness of the endocrine disruptorhypothesis and the many scientific uncertainties associated with the issueare sufficient to warrant a coordinated federal research effort.
Federal Activities Under the National Science and Technology Council(NSTC)
The NSTC Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) identifiedendocrine disruptors as an initiative in November 1995. The NSTC is a cabinet-levelcouncil chaired by President Clinton that serves as the principal meansfor coordinating science and technology issues across the Federal government.
The CENR established a Working Group on endocrine disruptors that ischaired by the Environmental Protection Agency with vice chairs from theDepartment of the Interior and the National Institute of EnvironmentalHealth Sciences. Other participating agencies include the National Oceanicand Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, the Foodand Drug Administration, the
Centers for Disease Control, the Agency for Toxic Substances and DiseaseRegistry, the National Cancer Institute, the Smithsonian Institution, theDepartments of Agriculture and Energy, and the Office of Science and TechnologyPolicy.
The Working Group established three objectives for developing an integratedresearch strategy across the federal agencies: ( 1) Develop a planningframework for federal research related to the human health and ecologicaleffects of endocrine disrupting chemicals; (2) Conduct an inventory ofon-going federally funded research on endocrine disruptors; and (3) Identifyresearch gaps and facilitate a coordinated interagency research plan toaddress them.
Progress by the CENR Working Group
The first two objectives of the Working Group have been completed. Aplanning framework, The Health and Ecological Effects of Endocrine DisruptingChemicals: A Framework for Planning, and a research inventory describingnearly 400 projects have been published. Both the framework document andthe inventory can be accessed on the internet (www.epa.gov/endocrine).
Analysis of the current research effort indicates that the majorityof federally funded research projects focus on human health effects; fewerare devoted to ecological effects or exposure assessment. The largest numberof studies focus on reproductive development followed by carcinogenesis,then neurologic and immunologic effects. Dioxins and PCBs are the moststudied test chemicals. Most of the research can be categorized as supportingeither methods development for hazard identification or basic researchon mechansims of endocrine action. An overlay of the inventory and theresearch framework will be used to complete the third and final objectiveof the working group, prioritization of critical unmeet research needs,during the summer of 1997.
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