EPA Will Test Pesticides' Effect on Endocrine System

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 15, 2009; 2:16 PM

The Environmental Protection Agency announced today it will order pesticide manufacturers for the first time to test 67 chemicals contained in their products to determine if they disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates both animals' and humans' growth, metabolism and reproduction.

Researchers have raised concerns that chemicals released into the environment are interfering with animals' hormone systems, citing problems such as male fish in the Potomac River that are growing eggs. The chemicals, known as endocrine disruptors, may interfere with the hormones that humans and animals produce or secrete.

"Endocrine disruptors can cause lifelong health problems, especially for children," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in a statement. "Gathering this information will help us work with communities and industry to protect Americans from harmful exposure."

The testing will begin this summer and focus on whether these chemicals affect the body's estrogen, androgen and thyroid systems, EPA officials said. It will eventually encompass all pesticide chemicals.

Pesticide industry officials said they had anticipated the move, which was prompted initially by the 1996 passage of the Food Quality Protection Act, and they planned to cooperate on the matter.

"It's been a long time coming," said Jay Vroom, president and chief executive of CropLife America, a major trade association. "For pesticides, we think the likelihood is extremely low we'll have any concerns come to the surface."

Just this month EPA rejected a petition from CropLife America that would have changed aspects of the agency's Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program in an effort to reduce the costs and time requirements associated with the new testing regime. But Vroom said EPA indicated in its April 3 letter that it would take several of the industry's concerns into account, including leaving open the possibility in the future of using computer modeling in some instances rather than relying exclusively on laboratory animal testing.

"That's an encouraging sign," he said, adding it appeared the agency would be willing to lower the number of lab animals required for testing.

Linda Birnbaum, who directs the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, said the program represents "a more organized way to look at" how human exposure to pesticide chemicals could affect everything from bone growth to brain development.

"This is a good beginning," Birnbaum said, adding that scientists need to examine how different hormone disruptors might interact or accumulate in the human body. "It's very important to know, can certain chemicals, especially chemicals that are out there that people are exposed to, impact our hormone system."

While researchers have observed the most visible effects of these chemicals in animals, Birnbaum said it was likely some humans, depending on their particularly sensitivity, could experience similar problems.

"I think it's unrealistic that humans are going to be immune," she said, adding that the studies need to determine "what are doses, how much of these chemicals do you need for cause and effect?"

Linda Phillips, who manages EPA's Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, said it will take about two years to obtain data from the two-tiered screening program, and then it could take the agency another year to make a final determination about the chemicals' effect on hormone disruption.

Vroom said pesticide manufacturers are "very confident our products will come through with flying colors. If we do learn something about our products that raises a cause for concern, our industry will be at the table, ready and willing to step forward and take action to mitigate risk."

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