Discussion: Man-made chemicals and endocrine disruption -- what are your views on this alarming new theory being studied and debated within the scientific community?

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a DES(diethylstilbestrol) daughter I am very grateful for your informative program. In the USA alone, there were between 5-10 million babies exposed via the womb to DES. In the late 1970's I became aware of my increased risk for clear cell cancer. But it is only in the last year that I have learned the extent of damage from DES exposure. It has not been for a lack of health problems. Unfortunately, much of the medical community is still only looking for clear cell cancer in DES daughters. Now we, DES sons and daughters need doctors who are looking beyond only cancer and looking at the other consequences DES has plagued our bodies with. Like it or not, there are millions of us, DES children, who are living proof of the effects of endocrine disruptors. Thank you for confirming what our bodies already give witness to and for being a source of education for us all. For more information on DES exposure contact: www.desaction.org

E. Bender
long beach, ca

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your analogy of Dr. John Snow's statistical analysis of the Soho district outbreak of cholera (with subsequent removal of the Broad Street pump handle) and endocrine disruption caused by man-made chemicals (with subsequent removal of said chemicals) is slightly misleading. Dr. Snow was working against an unknown disease-causing agent, but was fairly certain that the route to contracting cholera was through ingestion of the agent. Since the disease knew no class boundaries and did not manifest pneumonic complications, Snow assumed, correctly, that cholera was most likely a water-born malady. Additionally, a person contracting the disease suffered a predictable outcome.

In contrast, widespread endocrine disruption in humans, caused by exposure to man-made chemicals that are environmentally derived, is inferred from studies and observations of chemical exposures of non-human species in the wild. Which chemicals cause what type of endocrine disruption? The inventory of man-made chemicals that continually feeds into the environment is alarming and, no doubt, contributes to a wide variety of diseases in both man and other species. However, ascertaining direct cause-effect relationships between a particular chemical or chemical complex and a host of diseases with endocrine manifestations in humans is, statistically, more akin to throwing darts than the beautiful abstraction of data practiced by Dr. Snow.

Dave Gary
salt lake city, ut

Dear FRONTLINE,

The question, "what cost is acceptable?" is the essence of all decisions that we must make. The question of abortion is not life or death, but at what point is death tolerable? The question of deformation, suffering and death from poisons we introduce to our own environment is not, what does the individual feel, but rather, what level of suffering signals the end of our species?

The history of life, if we heed its lesson, says that species come and species go. The cause of past extinctions is moot, and why do we care? We care for the same reason that we remember Hitler and the Holocaust; so we won't repeat a foolish mistake. Humanity's Day has spanned enough time for our speciallity, intelligence, to become our curse. Intelligence takes the place of mutation in humans for adapting to environmental stress. We succeed because we can adapt very, very quickly, but will we be able to adapt quickly enough to save us from our accelerating mistakes? A fact that is not hypothesized, tested and replicated is still real. It doesn't await our awarness to exist. Set up your experiments, make your predictions, but, replicable or not, earth ecology has changed in human times. We are a dynamic, major drive toward a world in which we did not evolve. How much can we alter it and still live? In the scheme of life, it doesn't matter. The decisions we make don't matter. Whatever we do WILL dictate our species survival. It's just that our survival doesn't care about the individual and life doesn't care about our species. Carl Sagan pointed out that it's not the planet we're trying to save, it's the people on it. The planet will be just as happy when we're gone.

Dan Peterson
burley, id

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am 54 years old and feel that man-made chemicals have caused problems with my immune system. I am extremely sensitive to chemically scented products. I become very ill when exposed to these products, especially scented laundry products such as detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets. I am very vocal about my problem, and have learned that many other people share it. These products emit fumes that irritate my throat and lungs, make me feel weak and disoriented, and if I am unable to remove myself from the fumes, eventually give me a headache. I am curious to know if there has been any research regarding the effects of these fumes on young children. Babies' and childrens' clothes are washed in these products and they have those clothes on their bodies twenty-four hours a days. With the rise in childhood asthma, has there been any research to see if this could be one of the causes?

Marilyn Dechter
eugene, oregon

Dear FRONTLINE,

Guess what, Colburns book is only $13.95 paper-back @ barnes and noble, pick one up 4 a friend. No, we won't be seeing any "moratorium" on these chemicals any time soon, when we adjust ( and it will be a fight to "adjust") it will be a very slow process, in other words, new chemicals and methods for our society must be found to replace the lost income. The trick will be to put incentives in place for our society and it's corporations to spend the money on research for "better", healthier ways to go about life. IN THE MEANTIME, 35 billion to Kenneth Starr is an insult my priorities as a taxpayer, the science facilities of our gov't could sure use the cash for this project!! Meanwhile, Let's propose those little stickers on products sold (such as the tobacco companies have to print):WARNING; this product is dangerous to your health, the health of your child, your ovaries, sperm, fetuses, and any pets that you may have on the premesis!...money makes the world go 'round, sock 'em where it counts!! FRONTLINE; you guys did an EXCELLANT PIECE HERE!!!!!!

Tammy Chopping
stone mountain, ga

Dear FRONTLINE,

I don't have a lot of knowledge about endocrine disrupters or other environmental chemicals and their effects. However, I have seen other television programs on this subject. What I really appreciated about the Frontline program was your evenhanded, non-sensationalized approach to the topic. Your program demonstrated the complexities of this issue and gave viewers a lot to think about and research further.

Cheryl Kasson
denver, co

Dear FRONTLINE,

I have a 32 year old son who was born apparently healthy after the administration of DES during my pregnancy. I have found out since his birth that he is affected with a very agressive personality, is schophrnic, has seizures, abberant sexual behaviors, and is both sterile and prone to get testicular cancer due to in-utero exposure to this hormone.This is all I have been able to verify as results of this exposure, and it has made his life a living Hell. All possible efforts should be put forth to make sure that no more children are EVER affected by chemicals in such a horrible way. Did I meantion that he is also illerate despite a 140 I.Q.?

holliday, tx

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your program on endocrine blocking compounds was very interesting. It was very informative to see the "environmental chemists" lobbying for a "Manhatten Project" to look into their concerns. And they are selling this idea on the basis that our children will be smarter and our sons will have better sperm counts and larger penises. It's amazing that Congress hasn't overwhelmed them with money. I can't imagine anybody being against that unless, of course, they found that the research couldn't be duplicated.

It's obvious that the issue warrants further study. But we should be cautious and make certain that the data is verifiable before we enact legislation on the basis of limited studies.

There have been many instances of widely held, scientifically supported beliefs being overturned. Most recently the fact that saccharin causes tumors in lab rats but not humans and that women with breast implants don't suffer higher rates of maladies than other women. However, this information came too late to prevent us from keeping a product off the market that might have helped people fight their tendancy to be obese and from nearly bankrupting the company that produced the silicone implants.

We need to be careful before we allow politics and anecdotal evidence to affect our public policy.

Joe Yates
fort worth, texas

Dear FRONTLINE,

The program about pollution through chemicals reminds me of the book titled, "And the Waters Turned to Blood" by Rodney Barker.

Dr. Jo Ann Burkholder of North Carolina University was the scientist who discovered pfiesteria in the North Carolina waters. This organism thrives on pollutants and is a health risk to humans. However, she was met by ridicule from the scientific community when she tried desperately to alert the public. They did not want to create a panic while she was more interested in saving lives and trying to find the answers to stop the organism. This saga continues to date.

The old saying "Beware the messenger" is true. Another old saying comes to mind, "Ignorance is bliss". I guess the public has a choice to remain ignorant and become ill or start demanding answers from the politicians and big businesses and take the risk of being labled an alarmest.

Please continue to show the programs that tell the truth. The "need to know basis" has long outlived its origin. The public has a right to know what they are being exposed to in water, food, and household items. Then we can make educated choices of what we want. As consumers, we have always had the upper hand on politicians and big business. We need to become more united and make them listen to what we want; not what they want.

Candace Brown
huntsville, tx

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was excited to see your program take on such a volatile topic of scientific investigation. My view on this area, as a scientist in the chemical and biochemical sciences, is that the entire endocrine disruption hypothesis needs further testing in either a number of wildlife models with substantially lower exposure to organochlorines and such compounds and/or larger studies of the phenomenological aspects of human puberty/menopause onset and childhood behaviour that Dr. Birnbaum discussed. The case of Dr. Colborn's popular book exposing this hypothesis to the general public allows for public intrest in scientific investigation, which I applaud. However my impression from Dr. Colborn's interview and Frontline's discussion of her book leads me to believe that "Our Stolen Future" does not present a balanced view of all the facts. Your discussion has lead me to conclude that the endocrine disruption controversy demonstrates how not to inform the general public in a manner that is as a whole benificial to society, which brings to question how ground breaking research can be presented in a clear but yet scholarly context for society to comprehend.

Dept. of Biochemistry Duke University Medical Center

David Benson
chapel hill, nc

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a breeder of show dogs, and as a student of simple genetics in connection with the effort to produce purebred dogs with good health and temperament, I have been aware for some time that reproduction is not what it should be in the canine. The cause has always been thought to be the results of inbreeding depression. Although I'm sure that this is one of the major contributors to lower litter sizes and sterility that we are now experiencing, it might also be possible that we are exposing our canine friends to risky chemicals in the effort to control external and internal pests (fleas, worms, ticks, etc.) While I realize that these pose great health threats alone, the method of eradication may also be slowly reducing the healthy population size of any given breed of dog. It would seem necessary for this debate over the influence of chemicals on our systems to be brought to an early resolution, so that action can be taken before it is too late...not only for them but for us.

crowley, texas

Dear FRONTLINE,

I caught a brief mention this evening about a drug used in the 60's and 70's to prevent miscarriages - (DES?) please tell me about this and how I can research whether or not it was the drug given to me by injection at around the end of my first trimester in August of 1970. I have a 27 year old daughter who is married and considering having a baby in the next couple of years. Is there anything more I should learn before telling her about this?

mandeville, la

Dear FRONTLINE,

Further scientific testing and experimentation is a MUST. I believe that every living organism; man, animal, plant, right down to the molecular level acts as a barometer for our continued existence. Utilization of chemicals for the sake of creating technological advancements toward luxuries enjoyed within the realm of North American civilization does not justify a reduction in the quality of life from a physiological perspective. We have come to understand the many appplications behind synthetic compounds, but I feel that the rate of such advancements have not provided for adequate time to test for long term health effects. Whether a compound is tested for ten years or even twenty, the question remains is this sufficient time to conclude that negative effects will not be sustained by any living organism in thirty years, or the generations that follow. It has only been over the last two decades that we as a society are now coming to terms with air and water quality. We are only now examining sulphur dioxide emissions, PAH's, PCP's, Dioxins, Ground Level Ozone, etc. and are beginning to see the consequenses expressed in the human factor through increases in the rate of asthma, and their occurances at times when air quality is below the acceptable standard.

In addition to what has been mentioned this far, I would like to say that there is a need to provide more of these programs to the viewing audience. People need to know the truth about the many things we each take for granted in our daily lives. Current health concerns stemming from the utilization of synthesized compounds must be made clear to people. Ignorance of these biological dangers may keep people from seeking medical intervention when necessary, and in essence prevents people from speaking out against the manufacture and use of these compounds. In effect, the opportunity to create a better future for generations yet to be born, is theoretically taken away from each and everyone of us.

Througout the program, I could not help but feel that certain science professionals documented on the program had a vested interest in protecting their stance against the need to look at wildlife as a good indicator to the future quality of our life. I did not feel that the underlying concept behind the program was that hard to comprehend. If aboriginal people around the world used wildlife as successfully as they did toward determining how people will be able to manage on the same tract of land, then why do such scientists have so much difficulty in understanding such a rudimentary concept?

Thank you for televising such an informative program!

Bryan Clark
toronto, ontario

Dear FRONTLINE,

There have been massive alterations in the native environment of Florida. Development, introduction of non-native species, farming in the watershed of the everglades. Global environmental changes also effect Florida greatly. As an area which is so close to sea level, rises in sea level alter the environment, as a sub tropical environment, raises in temperature are of great effect. It is a known fact that alligator gender is dependent upon environment, temperature and humidity. To over simplify the changes in the environment and its effects on wild life iin Florida as being caused by one kind of change shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the processes involved in the biosphere.

Jonathan Sheppard
fort myers, florida

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a woman with multiple endocrine related health issues, who was born and raised on Long Island in New York, I have been intensly interested in this topic for some time. Dr. Colborn's work and the work of other pioneer scientists in this field of research are teaching us how to reduce our risks and hopefully save future generations. We can not afford to stall as govt. did with tobacco related risks. For instance, we need to act now to ban endocrine disrupting NPEs as they have done in Europe. These chemicals are in household detergents, cosmetics, plastics and body creams! In addition, we need to strengthen our organic food standards (not weaken themas the USDA was trying to do) so that the people of this country have a safe, pesticide-free alternative food source. The time is now.

Evelyn Rysdyk
yarmouth, me

 

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