NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Endocrine Disrupter Scare Is False Alarm

August 26, 1999

Environmental groups heavily promoted Our Stolen Future, a 1996 book that argued synthetic chemicals are wreaking havoc on human health by disrupting the endocrine system. Vice President Al Gore wrote the introduction, announcing there is a "large and growing body of scientific evidence" that endocrine disrupters threaten humanity.

The publicity the book received was effective:

  • Five months after its release, Congress unanimously passed the Food Quality Protection Act, which directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to begin studying endocrine disrupters.
  • The EPA began a major initiative to test some 15,000 synthetic substances for endocrine-disrupter effects.

However, earlier this month the National Research Council (NRC), an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued a report which found no proof synthetic chemicals act as human "endocrine disrupters" -- declaring the theory of endocrine disrupters "rife with uncertainties" and unsupported by experiments or health data.

  • The NRC notes that Our Stolen Future lumped together nearly every wildlife malady as an indication of endocrine disruption, regardless of competing explanations, including deformities in frogs, for example -- which were recently found to be due to a natural parasite, not a hormone plague.
  • The book based the case for the human endocrine-disruption effect almost entirely on the example of diethylstilbestrol (DES), the drug that, when taken by pregnant women, caused thousands of girls to be born with abnormal reproductive tracts or to develop cancer.
  • But that harm was caused by large doses of chemicals that mothers ingested directly, not trace amounts in the environment.

Finally, while announcing the advent of a widespread, pervasive harm, Our Stolen Future does not address why U.S. public health has been improving steadily. Americans are living with less heart disease, fewer strokes and lower mortality from almost all diseases, although they are supposedly inundated with potentially "endocrine disrupting."

Source: Greg Easterbrook, "Science Fiction," New Republic, August 30, 1999.


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