Mar 30: Endocrine disruptor talk at CMU

Environmental Distinguished Lecture Series: Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in Plastic: The Conflict Over Safety between Scientists and Government Regulatory Agencies, by Frederick S. vom Saal, Division of Biological Sciences, University of Missouri. Part of the Environmental Distinguished Lecture Series entitled Toward Sustainability: Changing our Physical and Chemical Environment.

There is now compelling evidence that many plastic products contain chemicals that can both mimic and inhibit the activity of hormones that are essential for normal development and function in wildlife, experimental animals, and humans. One such “endocrine disrupting chemical” is bisphenol A (BPA), used to make polycarbonate plastic and the resin used to line metal cans, which was known to act as a synthetic estrogen as far back as the 1950s. One goal of the “Green Chemistry” initiative is to prevent these types of mistakes. BPA leaching is implicated as a contributor to the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, infertility, bladder-urethra disorders, breast and prostate cancer and neuro-behavioral disorders such as ADHD. Another example is the phthalates, plasticizers that can leach out of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. Some phthalates block production of testosterone, which is required for normal masculinization of males.

Federal regulatory agencies have refused to acknowledge the hundreds of peer-reviewed studies and scientific review panels that express concern regarding harm to human health and the environment due to leaching of these chemicals from a wide array of commonly-used products. Instead, risk assessment panels for regulatory agencies such as the US FDA have deemed them safe, based only on a very small number of chemical industry-funded studies that used outdated methods and never lead to the conclusion that endocrine disrupting chemicals such as BPA pose a threat to animal or human health -- in stark contrast to hundreds of NIH-funded studies that virtually always report harm using state-of-the art methods to reveal molecular pathways mediating disease. In response to the failure of federal regulatory agencies such as the FDA to take appropriate action to protect the public health, legislative bodies are attempting to enact regulations to protect the public from specific chemicals such as BPA and phthalates, while the affected corporations are spending hundreds of millions of dollars fighting each piece of legislation rather than using this money to develop safer alternatives. This reveals the urgent need to restructure laws governing our federal chemical regulatory system, which has allowed thousands of chemicals to be used in household products even though they have never been tested for health effects and remain unidentified not only to the public but also to federal regulatory agencies.

Frederick vom Saal was a Peace Corps volunteer in Somalia and Kenya and then received a Ph.D. in neurobiology from Rutgers University and postdoctoral training in reproductive biology at the University of Texas at Austin. He is Curators’ Professor of biology at the University of Missouri-Columbia. The focus of his research is the abnormal development of reproductive organs and metabolic processes due to exposure during fetal life to estrogenic chemicals in plastic. He has published over 160 articles, and has testified at hearings in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, numerous State legislative bodies, the EU Parliament, and at regulatory agency hearings in USA, Germany and Japan. He has served on the editorial boards of a number of scientific journals and on the NAS Committee on Hormonally Active Agents in the Environment, and is an elected fellow of the AAAS.

4:30-6 p.m. in Porter Hall 100 (Gregg Hall). Co-sponsored by the Institute for Green Science, CMU's Departments of Chemistry and Civil & Environmental Engineering, and The Shaw Group.

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