What’s missing from Nick Kristof’s latest column?

What is most striking about Nick Kristof’s latest column about endocrine disruption is what’s missing from it.

Granted, one has to know the science and regulatory considerations well enough to see all of the angles this article could have and should have covered. But what readers got instead was a very selective viewpoint, revealing a very narrow understanding of a hotly debated scientific issue about whether certain chemicals interact with the endocrine system to cause adverse effects in humans.

UPDATE (10/23): Read this letter to the editor of the NYT, signed by Society of Toxicology president Lois D. Lehman-McKeeman, in which she calls Kristof’s claims “inappropriate.”

Contrary to Kristof’s charges against the chemical industry, ACC has supported scientific research on the endocrine disruption issue from its inception. We regularly engage with the scientific community and regulatory agencies to enhance the scientific understanding of endocrine disruption, to promote sound decisions, and to effectively manage risks that may exist from exposure to some chemicals. We have also supported federal appropriations for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) research on endocrine disruption.

Developing a reliable screening and testing program

Kristoff’s readers might also be surprised to learn that there is already a regulatory program managed by EPA that focuses solely on screening and testing chemicals for endocrine disruption. It’s called the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (EDSP), and it has the support of industry. For many years, ACC has been providing recommendations on how the Agency can make this a robust, science-based, and sound program. The first phase of screening certain pesticide chemicals was recently completed, and EPA is now reviewing those results and is planning the second phase to address other chemicals.

As we have done in the past, ACC will continue to work constructively with the Agency and other stakeholders to ensure this program proceeds in a scientifically sound and timely manner.

What the science tells us right now

Another key element missing from Kristof’s column is what regulatory bodies like EPA have published so far in response to certain hypotheses about endocrine disruption. By far, the most controversial and still unproven hypothesis is that very low doses of certain chemicals can lead to non-monotonic endocrine disrupting responses.

Several years ago, the federal government committed more than $30 million in economic stimulus money to study this hypothesis in the context of one chemical in particular, bisphenol-A (BPA), which can be found in common household food containers and cans. These studies found that the body can quickly metabolize and eliminate any BPA it absorbs from food, resulting in no harmful effects.

Most recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released an updated perspective on BPA, stating that “BPA is safe at the very low levels that occur in some foods.” This perspective was based on review by FDA scientists of hundreds of studies, including the latest findings from new studies conducted by the Agency’s National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR).

Earlier this summer, EPA’s Office of Research and Development published its draft opinion on where the science stands on non-monotonic dose response for endocrine-active substances. The report’s conclusions were clear: the purported scientific evidence for low dose exposures leading to non-monotonic endocrine disruption responses and adverse effects is weak at best.

These conclusions affirmed what mainstream scientists have expressed for years.

The need for constructive debate

ACC and our members strongly support the study and the risk-based regulation of chemicals, including those that have been shown to act via the endocrine system to cause adverse effects in scientifically valid toxicological test systems. We also support a constructive debate that considers all views.

The media has an important role to play in this effort – first, in committing itself to understanding what EPA, European Commission, and other government bodies publish about endocrine disruption; and, second, in synthesizing and disseminating that information to the public in an objective way, one that does not cause unnecessary alarm.

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