Increasingly, male bass pulled from the Potomac River are being found with female reproductive organs. Scientists say that this strange anomaly happening right in our own backyard and around the country is associated with high levels of what are known as “endocrine disrupting chemicals” or EDCs.
These man-made chemicals are found in the products we use everyday, from laundry detergent and plastic bottles, and are showing up in our environment at disturbing levels.
Earlier this month, I teamed up with Senator John Kerry to introduce legislation that examines possible links between hormone disrupting chemicals that may be causing the intersex fish in the Potomac and are suspected to lead to human disorders such as autism, hyperactivity, and obesity, among others. Known as the Endocrine Disruption Prevention Act of 2009 (HR 4190) this legislation will fast track collection of the kind of data and research necessary to determine the affect these chemicals may be having on human health.
Recent human epidemiological and laboratory animal studies demonstrate a strong link between hormone-related disorders and prenatal exposure to EDCs. These disorders, which include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, asthma, juvenile and adult diabetes, juvenile cancer, autoimmune diseases, obesity, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s dementia, began to increase noticeably in the early 1970s, just as the first generation was exposed in the womb to post-World War II synthetic chemicals reached maturity.
There is significant evidence that the disturbing increase in the number of disorders of the human endocrine system is seriously undermining the nation’s health. Today, 1 in 3 children and 1 in 2 minority children will develop diabetes; 1 in 6 children is born with neurological damage; 1 in 100 children has an autism spectrum disorder – among boys the occurrence is 1 in 58; and in 2007, an age-independent decline in testosterone levels over the past 20 years was discovered in American men.
In 1996, Congress recognized the need to study endocrine disruptors when it directed the Environmental Protection Agency to develop an endocrine disruption screening program as part of the Food Quality Protection Act. Unfortunately, for various reasons– many political–the program has been plagued by delays.
The inadequacy of the current federal effort was highlighted this October, when the EPA unveiled the first phase of tests to determine the presence of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals. Despite more than 13 year’s work, the tests address just a handful of pesticides and are of questionable value given recent scientific advances. Indeed, scientists’ knowledge and understanding of EDCs and how to best detect them has increased profoundly in the last decade. In order to take effective action, a modernized 21st century testing paradigm is needed, not an outdated, limited system of chemical tests.
Under the Endocrine Disruption Prevention Act, science, not politics and bureaucracy, will set the stage for regulatory action. The bill instructs the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to undertake a comprehensive research and testing program to identify chemicals with endocrine disruption potential based on the best science available. An independent task force of leading scientists will be commissioned to oversee the research program. The task force will use NIEHS findings to generate a list of chemicals of concern and evaluate their potential threat to human health. If a chemical warrants even a minimal level of concern, the task force can direct the appropriate government agency to address the issue in a report to Congress that must be completed in six months. This process is designed to foster greater public awareness of the potentially dangerous chemicals in our food, manufactured products, and environment, while encouraging swift action by regulatory agencies to limit or prevent public exposure.
Major environmental and health groups agree that the approach outlined in the Endocrine Disruption Prevention Act can help solve the puzzle of endocrine disruptors and hormone-based disorders in people. By utilizing timely, accurate, practical research, the government can take appropriate action to protect public health. The fish in the Potomac appear to be serving as the proverbial “canary in the coal mine.” We can act now on this evidence before this damage spreads up the food chain, to us.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.