Letters to the UK press in July
The Guardian 27/7/95:
John Vidal (Unpopular science, July 26)
makes many salient points in his examination of the Government's
decision take no action over chemicals that are suspected to
be imitating hormones. One discrepancy he does not mention is
the difference between the processes of getting a new chemical
approved, and getting an existing chemical banned. For approval
of a new chemical a company must undertake animal, and sometimes
cell culture, toxicity tests to establish the safety of the chemical.
The Government considers the results of these tests to be a reasonable
indicator of human toxicity. In the case of the oestrogenic chemicals
already in use, there is a great deal of animal and cell culture
data showing their hormonal effects, some of it dating back to
the 1930's. This data is not considered to be a reliable indicator
of human toxicity - one law for industry and another for the
rest of us.
The Government has already committed itself
to the precautionary principal; its 1990 White Paper on Sustainable
"Where there are significant risks
of damage to the environment the Government will be prepared
to take precautionary action to limit the use of potentially
dangerous materials or the spread of potentially dangerous pollutants,
even where scientific knowledge is not conclusive, if the likely
balance of costs and benefits justifies it."
Yet now they require proof "beyond
doubt", or to state it another way, overwhelming evidence
of human damage. Further research is necessary - but there is
already sufficient known to push for action now - not in 5 or
10 years time, when another generation will have been exposed
to these chemicals in their mother's womb. The attitude of the
Government and the Chemical Industry to oestrogen toxicity is
totally immoral, and pressure must be put on them to act now
on this threat to both people and the environment.
Dr Michael Warhurst
The Independent 31/7/95:
The Government's call for more research
but no action in response to this weeks report on the health
implications of oestrogenic chemicals is complacent and short
term. Some of these chemicals have been known to be oestrogenic
since 1938 and many, such as the alkylphenolic compounds, have
already been banned in other countries, whilst some companies
in the UK have stopped using plastics containing phthalates.
The quote attributed to Professor Lewis , the Director of the
Institute for Environment and Health, that banning in the absence
of definitive evidence was a mistake because "if you've
guessed badly you have left behind the chemicals doing the damage",
makes little sense when the Government's decision is to ban nothing
- so leaving all the oestrogenic chemicals in the environment
- a bigger mistake than possibly leaving a few.
The persistent complaint from the chemical industry whenever
one of their products is shown to be dangerous, e.g. CFCs, DDT
etc., is that "there is no alternative", but within
a few years alternatives are in place [(though not usually produced
by UK industry, because they've spent their energies lobbying
the Government not to ban the chemical in question)].
Animal and cell culture toxicity tests
are what companies use to persuade the Government that a new
chemical is safe, but now the Government ignores evidence from
these same tests that existing chemicals are dangerous. The Government
wants proof of human damage by the oestrogenic compounds - but
there are only two ways this can be obtained:
i) Small scale human experiments, where
pregnant women are fed controlled amounts of the chemical(s)
in question, and their children are then studied for damage over
the next 20 years or so, a totally unethical experiment.
ii) Large scale human experiments, where
the population is exposed to the suspect chemical(s), and epidemiological
methods are used to evaluate any damaging effects on the population.
This week's events demonstrate that the
Government intends to continue experiment (ii), which has already
been going for 50 years. They are totally ignoring their own
commitment to the precautionary principle, and endangering the
health of the population and the environment. [Our health is
more important than the financial interests of the chemical industry.
The time for action is now - not in five, ten or twenty years
time. Many of these chemicals could be banned now or phased out
over the next few years with no real effect on industry].
Dr Michael Warhurst
NB: The statements in [ ] were edited out
by the Independent.