by Pat Cody
This article by DES Action president Pat Cody describes how the research done into the effects of DES (Note: It has been known since 1971 that DES (diethylstilbestrol), a synthetic hormone drug, causes cancer in women exposed in-utero) has served as a model for study of exposure to pollutants around the world that have estrogenic effects.
The leading center for research on DES effects on mice is the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), one of the nine institutes of the National Institutes of Health. We have learned much about effects on humans from the studies on mice, and the NIEHS scientists have learned from us. As they wrote in their journal for June 1993,
"... DES may be viewed as a model compound for other environmental agents with estrogenic potential. The bio-accumulation of these environmental estrogens is recognized as a problem of increasing magnitude. Certain human populations in the United States have been shown to carry amounts of these fat-soluble compounds which, in fish and other wildlife, cause significant endocrine dysfunction and developmental anomalies of the reproductive tract. Insights into the biological effects of DES should therefore provide a foundation upon which future environmental health problems may be effectively addressed."
We are five years down the road from that statement, and scientists world-wide have confirmed the problems of exposures to pollutants that have estrogenic effects:
Turning to reports on humans, much of the news comes from Japan, where scientists and the general public are both becoming more aware of 'endocrine disruptors.' In June, the press carried a story that breast-fed babies in Japan were receiving about six times the daily tolerable amount of dioxins. They speculated that because dioxin is produced daily by the incinerators used to destroy mountains of garbage, it reaches the mothers in the environment. In May a press report from Tokyo stated that Japan had the lowest number of children in its population since organized census taking began in 1920. There has been a significant increase in infertile couples and a study from the World Health Organization showed that 33 out of 34 healthy Japanese men between the ages of 20 and 26 had below normal sperm counts. This July, a press report from Bombay stated that 70% of Indian men had fallen sperm counts because of pollution. Less than 30% had normal semen.
Our continuing insistence on keeping DES exposure a relevant concern, and the help of the media in doing stories on DES as one of the first 'endocrine disruptors,' has had results. The Baltimore Sun reported in June that the Clinton administration has listed endocrine disruption as one of its top five environmental research priorities. Congress ordered the EPA to start a chemical screening program by this August. The federal Dept. of Health and Human Services stated that many chemicals "have the potential to disrupt the normal functions of the endocrine system, (which) may have a serious impact on reproductive and developmental parameters in wild life and human populations."
Of particular interest to us is news of a World Breast Cancer Conference in Canada in mid July. Michele Landsberg, a columnist for the Toronto Star, wrote that the thrust of the conference was to demand action for prevention, rather than continue to concentrate all resources in a possibly vain search for a cure ... . "Pollutants are metabolized in our bodies as estrogen," said author and cancer surgeon Dr. Susan Love. And it is lifetime exposure to estrogen that has increased world cancer rates by 26% since 1980....We live in a toxic soup of chemicals.
For those interested in learning more about this problem, the book Our Stolen Future is an excellent resource, with suggestions at the back for actions you can take.
Pat Cody is founder and president of DES Action. DES Action's web site is at http://www.desaction.org. This article reprinted with permission from the DES Action Voice newsletterRelated article:
|Published in In Motion Magazine August 1, 1998.
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