Correction to This Article
A Dec. 4 Metro article incorrectly described John Peterson Myers, an activist on the issue of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, as a former scientist. He remains involved in scientific research.

Inquiry Turns To Humans On Pollutant, Hormone Tie

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 4, 2006

Growing evidence that chemicals in the environment can interfere with animals' hormone systems -- including the discovery that male Potomac River fish are growing eggs -- has focused the attention of environmentalists and scientists on a new question: Are humans also at risk?

A decade ago, the very idea that pollutants could interfere with a body's chemical messages was near the fringes of science. But now, it is an urgent topic for lawmakers and researchers around the world, and especially in the Washington area.

In recent years, researchers have linked some common chemicals to troubling changes in laboratory rodents and wild animals, including reproductive defects, immune-system alterations and obesity.

For now, no connections to human ailments have been proved. But some studies have provided hints that people might be affected by crossed hormones, and activists wonder if this kind of pollution could contribute to diabetes, birth defects and infertility.

"There's a lot of concern that a lot of chemicals to which we are exposed routinely, and without our knowledge, are interfering with the way hormones work," said R. Thomas Zoeller, a professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments is planning to host a public forum about hormone-disrupting pollution this spring. U.S. Reps. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) have said they plan to press the Environmental Protection Agency about its failure to develop a program to test chemicals for hormonelike effects, as ordered by Congress in 1996.

The idea that natural hormone messages can be tampered with is not new; for decades, women using birth-control pills have been counting on a man-made chemical to do just that.

But the current concern is much wider: Some fear that modern chemistry might have unwittingly created other compounds with hormonelike effects and that they might have spread widely around the globe.

In the past few years, scientists working with animals have found potential problems with several pollutants, among them rocket-fuel components, pesticides and additives to soap. Among the most heavily researched:

ยท Phthalates, a family of additives used to make vinyl plastic flexible and prevent perfume from evaporating, have been linked to lower sperm counts and other sexual problems in male rats, as well as to heightened allergic reactions in the animals. Chemical industry officials have said that these tests used unrealistically high doses and that the results are not likely to translate to humans.

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