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Issues and controversies

Endocrine disruption is a complex and controversial field. This section focuses on some of the key issues.

Low dose effects

At what levels can endocrine disrupters be active? How can we deal with inconsistent results? What is a low dose anyway?

Persistent chemicals

The chemical industry is still manufacturing and using chemicals which persist in the environment or accumulate in our bodies. Even if these chemicals are not known to be toxic at this moment, if they are found to be in five or ten years there is no way of removing them from our bodies or the environment. There is more information on the dangers posed by such chemicals in the Friends of the Earth briefing 'Poisoning our children: the dangers of exposure to untested and toxic chemicals'. In addition, WWF has recently produced a comprehensive review of the hundreds of chemicals that contaminate breast milk - the executive summary is available here, the press release here.

There are international negotiations underway to phase out a small group of persistent and bioaccumulative chemicals - see the policy page.

Exposure to mixtures

All human exposure to chemicals is as mixtures. Mixtures with other chemicals in the same product, mixtures with chemicals already contaminating our bodies etc. These mixtures may have additive effects - adding together the activities of each element, as happens with many oestrogen mimicking chemicals, or may even have synergistic effects.

Regulatory systems basically ignore mixtures, partly because the science of mixtures is very complex. But mixtures are reality - and must be considered. The Friends of the Earth site includes discussion of how regulation can be improved to protect people more effectively; proposals are outlined in the Copenhagen Charter.

The precautionary approach - the lessons of BSE

The precautionary principle is about acting on uncertain data to protect human heath. BSE and vCJD ('Mad Cow Disease') is a model example of where the precautionary principle was not followed. What went wrong?

The regulation of chemicals

If a chemical is an endocrine disrupter, should it automatically be banned? We are always exposed to mixtures - can the regulatory process incorporate this? What can be done about persistent or bioaccumulative chemicals? Do we have enough information about chemicals to predict their safety?

Is there a sustainable way of using chemicals, to ensure the maximum protection for people and the environment?

These issues are discussed on Friends of the Earth's Safer Chemicals Campaign site.

This page was last updated in October 1999
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URL: http://website.lineone.net/~mwarhurst/issues.html