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Protocols for identifying endocrine-disrupting chemicals tightened

By Simon Pitman , 27-Jun-2012
Last updated the 27-Jun-2012 at 11:55 GMT

The Endocrine Society has proposed a streamlined definition of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) to strengthen their identification and screening, a move that could iron out ambiguities for cosmetics and personal care products.

An EDC is either a chemical or a mixture of chemicals in the environment that can interfere with any aspect of hormone action in human beings.

The Endocrine Society says it published a Scientific Statement in 2009 that provided an ‘exhaustive summary of the scientific background that underlines and justifies concern for the effects of EDC exposures to both humans and wildlife.

However, executives from a host of industries, including cosmetics and personal care, have stated that identifying the EDCs and tracing their source is almost impossible because there are so many different sources and so many different combinations.

Endocrine Society aims to 'inform' the ongoing debate

"Because of the interest and expertise of our members, The Endocrine Society is in a unique position to help inform the ongoing debate about the health effects of endocrine disruptors," said Thomas Zoeller, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts and lead author of the statement.

"The new statement outlines key issues related to identifying EDCs and protecting humans and wildlife from their adverse effects."

The most recent statement addresses the issue of giving a more accurate definition of EDCs, therefore allowing a clearer set of criteria required to identify a chemical as an EDC, in turn allowing clearer steps to assess the risk of EDC exposure.

The new statement defines an EDC as “an exogenous chemical, or mixture of chemicals that interferes with any aspect of hormone action”.

Further to this the society says that the statement intentionally omits references to adverse effects, as there is so much controversy and disagreement and what exactly this means.

Here is a list of some of the key recommendations in the statement:

  • Basic scientists actively engaged in the development of new knowledge in relevant disciplines should be involved in evaluating the weight-of-evidence of EDC studies, as well as in the design and interpretation of studies that inform the regulation of EDCs;
  • State-of-the-art molecular and cellular techniques, and highly sensitive model systems, need to be built into current testing, in consultation with the appropriate system experts;
  • Testing needs to include models of developmental exposure during critical life periods when organisms may be most vulnerable to even very low-dose exposures;
  • The design and interpretation of tests must incorporate the biological principle that EDCs act through multiple mechanisms in physiological systems.

Endocrine disrupters are chemicals that mimic hormones or interfere in other ways with the endocrine system, which regulates various body functions. Estrogenic substances are endocrine disrupters that can mimic estrogens.

In personal care and cosmetic products it is parabens, siloxanes, phthalates and BHA that have come under fire.

Currently there are some regulations in Europe restricting the use of estrogen-mimicking substances in personal care products, which have been found in items such as shampoos, lotions, deodorants and make up.

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