Sonoma County Gazette, August 2012

What we don’t know can hurt us…..
In the 1950’s, medical doctors extolled the virtues of smoking cigarettes in public advertisements.  People were lighting up in restaurants, airplanes, movie theaters and almost everywhere.  As late as the 1980’s, smoke was so thick in the main room of the Santa Rosa Vets Auditorium bingo games, that one could barely see across the room.

And now, after many deaths from lung cancer, heart disease, and emphysema were directly attributed to cigarettes, along with suffering and bad health of others who had their quality of life substantially reduced, and since the discovery that non-smokers coming in contact with second hand smoke were every bit as much at risk, we have witnessed a paradigm shift where one can no longer even smoke in bars or outdoor cafes.  Smokers have become pariahs in office buildings and are no longer allowed to light up on public transportation.  In only 25 years, millions of people were inspired to give up this severely addictive habit, their quality of life immediately improved, and for many, years were added back on to their lives.

Something worse than cigarettes and global warming…
Health effects from exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals may be much more extensive than cigarette smoking, perhaps more threatening than global warming, and could even threaten the very future of life as we know it,.  And yet we are in a state of denial comparable to the doctors who extolled the pleasures of smoking cigarettes.  There are approximately 80,000 chemicals on the market with about 1000 new ones added each year.  At least 90% of these chemicals have not been tested for endocrine disrupting effects, as scientific evidence attesting to their massive harm mounts rapidly.

Linda S. Birnbaum, director of the National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, wrote an editorial in early spring this year.  Dr. Birnbaum is the author of over 700 peer reviewed publications, book chapters, abstracts, and reports.  She states:  “Thus, human exposures to thousands of environmental chemicals fall in the range of nonnegligible doses that are thought to be safe from a risk assessment perspective.  Yet the ever-increasing data from human biomonitoring and epidemiological studies suggests otherwise:  Low internal doses of endocrine disruptors found in typical human populations have been linked to obesity,… infertility,… neurobehavioral disorders,…..and immune dysfunction,…among others.”

It is understandable, but should not be acceptable, that governmental agencies don’t want to deal with the vast implications of new information coming out each day about the impacts of low dose exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals in our daily lives.

Recycled Water Policy Amendment……
The State Water Resources Control Board tentatively passed the Recycled Water Policy about three years ago, intending to greatly increase potable water use with wastewater REuse.  In our area, this would mostly take the form of irrigating landscapes with tertiary wastewater.   Since irrigation water often runs off into waterways in summer during low flows and high recreational use, and brings with it large amounts of endocrine disrupting pesticides, herbicides, etc., one of the major unresolved issues concerned addressing the health risks of irrigating with recycled wastewater.  The State set up a scientific panel to determine monitoring guidelines, who then concluded that “….monitoring of individual CECs is not proposed for recycled water used for landscape irrigation, although monitoring of some parameters is proposed.

CEC’s are ‘Chemicals of Emerging Concern’ and include a vast array of hundreds of endocrine disruptors.  The state scientists determined that only minimal monitoring was necessary because chemicals were found to occur in low amounts.  This finding failed to acknowledge the findings of many other scientists over the years indicating that very low doses of these chemicals have caused many serious health effects to humans and wildlife.  (The State Policy mostly ignores impacts on wildlife.)

In March, 2012, a new scientific study was released that justified revisiting the basic assumptions behind this Panel’s Report.  The study is entitled Hormones and Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: Low-Dose Effects and Nonmonotonic Dose Responses, developed and written by Laura N. Vandenberg, et. al.

We approached the lead author of the Study, Dr. Laura Vandenburg, to write comments on the Amendment to the Recycled Water Policy.  She agreed and submitted a letter to the State, along with an article written by herself entitled, “Environmental Chemicals, Large Effects from Low Doses” published in San Francisco Medicine June 2012. (Her comments are brief, written for the layperson, and easy to comprehend. 

Dr. Vandenburg is an academic scientist who has worked on issues related to endocrine disruption for the last nine years.  She has published more than 25 peer reviewed studies and has served on expert scientific and risk assessment panel in the US and Europe.  The above mentioned study on low dose effects had her working with eleven of the top scientists in the field, who together had published over 1000 studies on environmental chemicals.

The group examined over 800 studies during a three year period and “….concluded that there was clear and consistent evidence that a large number of EDCs have effects at low doses….These chemicals include herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, preservatives, industrial chemicals, surfactants, plasticizers, pharmaceuticals, flame retardants, and anti-bacterial agents, among others.”

Her comments are powerful.  She adds, “The concept of low dose effects and non-monotonic dose responses is not at the fringe of science.  The Endocrine Society, the world’s largest professional association of clinical and research endocrinologists, has released two recent statements regarding EDCs, and has repeatedly reiterated the conclusion that low doses of EDCs are harmful to humans and wildlfe.  This conclusion has widespread acceptance in the field of endocrinology due to the strength of the published data.”

She also states, “Hundreds of studies have examined people from the general population and found associations between low levels of hormone-altering compounds and infertility, cardiovascular disease, obesity, abnormal bone health, cancer and other diseases.”

In light of this information, the issue of “incidental runoff” becomes far more significant than what is considered in the Recycled Water Policy.  Not only is the applied wastewater liable to contain at least trace amounts of these chemicals, but the prolific use of weed killers and other toxic applications to landscapes and agricultural areas may be the death knell of many species resulting from allowing runoff into water ways.

Theo Colborn is referred to by many as the Rachel Carson of our time.  In reference to the recent study on low dose effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals, she said:

I hope that this paper opens the door to the realization that the endocrine system is the overarching control system of all other body systems…..It controls how we develop, function, and reproduce from the moment we are conceived—in other words, the quality of our lives and our existence.

(Dr. Colborn is one of the authors of the report.)