Potential endocrine-disrupting pesticides to be tested

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By Harriet Blake

The EPA has issued a list of pesticides that will be screened for possibly disrupting the human, as well as animal, endocrine system. The list, released Wednesday, focuses on “endocrine disruptors” which are chemicals that can negatively impact hormones produced by the endocrine system. The system regulates all biological processes in the body – specifically, growth, metabolism and reproduction.

“Gathering this information,” said EPA Adminstrator Lisa P. Jackson, “will help us work with communities and industry to protect Americans from harmful exposure. Endocrine disruptors can cause lifelong health problems, especially for children.”
The endocrine, or hormone, system is found in all mammals, birds and fish. It is made up of glands, hormones that are produced by the glands and receptors in different organs that respond to the hormones.

The EPA will have the makers of 67 pesticide chemicals test their products this summer to see if their chemicals are responsible for disrupting the endocrine systems.

The testing will be done through the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (ESDP) set up by the EPA, which commonly relies on companies to test their own products.

The list of all 67 chemicals can be found here. The EPA stresses that this list is not a definitive collection of known endocrine disruptors. The chemicals selected were chosen because there is a high potential for human exposure through food and water, residential activity or agricultural pesticide application. Many of the chemicals found on the list are present in commonly used lawn treatments, insect sprays, solvents and other household products.

“These pesticide chemicals were picked because we wanted to start with ones that more people might be exposed to,” says EPA spokesperson Suzanne Ackerman. “They were not selected based on which ones are considered most dangerous. We won’t know that until we have them tested.”

Several chemicals on the list, though, have been flagged for health concerns. Atrazine, for instance, has been banned in the European Union. Atrazine is among the most common, if not the most common, herbicide used in the United States.

Other recognizable chemicals on the testing list, include diazinon, malathion, carbaryl and permethrin. Diazinon has been banned for household use in the U.S., but remains available for agricultural use as an insecticide. Permethrins turn up on flea collars for dogs, which some health groups consider too toxic for household use.

Endocrine disruptors work in several ways. Sometimes, the chemical mimics a natural hormone, tricking the body into over-responding to the stimulus. The endocrine disruptor can also block the effects of a hormone from certain receptors. In other cases, the chemical can stimulate or inhibit the endocrine system, causing the overproduction or underproduction of hormones. Sometimes, as in the birth control pill, a chemical intentionally inhibits the endocrine system.

Impaired endocrine function can result in lowered fertility and other health conditions.

The direct connections between human diseases of the endocrine system and the system’s exposure to environmental contaminants, are still not clear, according to the EPA. This is why the establishment of the screening program is considered an important step.
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