Nicholas Kristof writes: Scientists are observing with increasing alarm that some very common hormone-mimicking chemicals can have grotesque effects.
A widely used herbicide acts as a female hormone and feminizes male animals in the wild. Thus male frogs can have female organs, and some male fish actually produce eggs. In a Florida lake contaminated by these chemicals, male alligators have tiny penises.
These days there is also growing evidence linking this class of chemicals to problems in humans. These include breast cancer, infertility, low sperm counts, genital deformities, early menstruation and even diabetes and obesity.
Philip Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, says that a congenital defect called hypospadias — a misplacement of the urethra — is now twice as common among newborn boys as it used to be. He suspects endocrine disruptors, so called because they can wreak havoc with the endocrine system that governs hormones.
Endocrine disruptors are everywhere. They’re in thermal receipts that come out of gas pumps and A.T.M.’s. They’re in canned foods, cosmetics, plastics and food packaging. Test your blood or urine, and you’ll surely find them there, as well as in human breast milk and in cord blood of newborn babies.
In this campaign year, we are bound to hear endless complaints about excessive government regulation. But here’s an area where scientists are increasingly critical of our government for its failure to tackle Big Chem and regulate endocrine disruptors adequately.
Last month, the Endocrine Society, the leading association of hormone experts, scolded the Food and Drug Administration for its failure to ban bisphenol-A, a common endocrine disruptor known as BPA, from food packaging. Last year, eight medical organizations representing genetics, gynecology, urology and other fields made a joint call in Science magazine for tighter regulation of endocrine disruptors.
Shouldn’t our government be as vigilant about threats in our grocery stores as in the mountains of Afghanistan?
As vigilant? No. It should be more vigilant.
Most Americans will never be exposed to any threat in the mountains of Afghanistan and the easiest way to protect those that clearly are is for them to leave Afghanistan.
We have for over a decade been living in the shadow of a threat whose magnitude has been vastly inflated and it has been inflated by those whose political and commercial interests are thereby served.
In contrast, when it comes to facing very pervasive threats to public health and the environment of the type Kristof describes, the dangers are played down because government is far more obedient to corporate interests than those of the people the politicians claim to serve.