Environmental Health Scientists Cry Foul Over Journal Editors' Views on Regulating Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals

Sep 18 2013

(Courtesy UMass Amherst News Office)

Laura Vandenberg, Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences

Two environmental health scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, both experts in endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC), have joined an international scientific outcry this week over a recent editorial in which prominent toxicology journal editors attempt to influence European Union (EU) policy on EDC regulation using what their critics say is “inaccurate and factually incorrect” information.

In a commentary published simultaneously today in Endocrinology and five other journals, researchers Laura Vandenberg, Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, and Thomas Zoeller, Professor of Biology, join dozens of their colleagues around the world to express concerns about an editorial titled, “Scientifically unfounded precaution drives European Commission’s recommendations on EDC regulation, while defying common sense, well-established science and risk assessment principles.” It appears in an early online edition of Food and Chemical Toxicology.

In “Policy Decisions on Endocrine Disruptors Should be Based on Science Across Disciplines: A Response to Dietrich et al.,” Vandenberg and the other critics discuss in detail what they call the factual shortcomings of the editorial by Daniel Dietrich, editor of Chemico Biological Interactions, and 17 other editors. They say that the Dietrich editorial “argues for the status quo in the regulation of EDCs, despite the large volume of evidence indicating that current regulations are ineffective in protecting human populations from these chemicals.”

They conclude, “Policymakers in Europe and elsewhere should base their decisions upon science, not assumptions based upon principles that arose out of research on chemicals that are not EDCs.”

Vandenberg adds, “Those that make policy decisions have a tough enough job understanding the science of endocrine disruption. When these decision makers are presented with information at odds with the scientific data, it does public health a disservice.”

The critics say the “most worrying aspect” of the editorial “is the blurring of the border between what constitutes science and what belongs to the realm of political, societal and democratic choices.”

Vandenberg and colleagues point out that more than 10 years ago, experts concluded that “the state of the science justified regulatory action” for endocrine disrupters. Yet Dietrich and his fellow editors “do not engage with the scientific basis for concern,” and object to the EU following its own clear law, which includes the Precautionary Principle, to guide decision makers in managing this risk.

Further, the critics say Dietrich and the editors “seem to be unaware” that in addition to playing a role in physiological responses, “endocrine systems also have a programming role during development and that disruption of these programming events leads to irreversible effects that go far beyond disturbances of homeostasis.”

Where the editorial writers assert that the current EU framework is based on what they consider a faulty assumption of ‘no threshold’ for endocrine disruptor effects, Vandenberg and the other critics point out that from a scientific standpoint this is still being debated. They write that the editors are ignoring evidence that the presence of a threshold is “far from established.”

Vandenberg and Zoeller were also authors on a commentary titled “Science and policy on endocrine disrupters must not be mixed: A reply to a ‘common sense’ intervention by toxicology journal editors,” published in Environmental Health in August. In that paper they say, “We call for a better founded scientific debate which may help to overcome a polarization of views detrimental to reaching a consensus about scientific foundations for endocrine disrupter regulation in the European Union.”