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EPA Petitioned to Regulate Chemicals That Pose Widespread Risks to Human and Animal Reproduction
“Our drinking water and aquatic habitat for wildlife is being increasingly and unnecessarily contaminated by endocrine disruptors such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals,” said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We should be very concerned when we see chemically castrated frogs and frankenfish resulting from these chemicals – it’s time to get these poisons out of our waterways and ecosystems.”
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that alter the structure or function of the body’s endocrine system, which uses hormones to regulate growth, metabolism, and tissue function. Endocrine disruptors can mimic naturally occurring hormones like estrogens and androgens, causing overstimulation, and can interfere with natural hormone functions, thereby compromising normal reproduction, development, and growth. They have been shown to damage reproductive functions and offspring, and cause developmental, neurological, and immune problems in wildlife and humans.
“As we start looking at this problem, we’re seeing disturbing hormonal responses in fish and wildlife from pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and personal-care products that are contaminating aquatic ecosystems,” said Miller. “The impacts of endocrine disruptors on aquatic wildlife are our canary in the coal mine, since these contaminated waters are often our drinking-water supply. The implications for human health are not good.”
A wide variety of substances, including pharmaceuticals, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls, DDT and other pesticides, solvents, and plasticizers can cause endocrine disruption. Pesticides have long been present in our environment, and now additional endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in cosmetics, detergents, deodorants, antibiotics, antihistamines, oral contraceptives, veterinary and illicit drugs, analgesics, sunscreen, insect repellant, synthetic musks, disinfectants, surfactants, plasticides, and caffeine are being introduced to ecosystems and waterways.
Despite its authority to do so, the Environmental Protection Agency currently regulates some, but not all, of the endocrine disruptors in the petition. For those it does regulate, standards are not stringent enough to protect against endocrine-disrupting harm. It is now known that infinitesimally small levels of exposure may cause endocrine or reproductive abnormalities, and current regulatory levels are insufficient to protect against water quality impairment.
“There is currently a regulatory void for controlling endocrine disruptors, and our petition aims to start the process of protecting human health and wildlife from these dangerous chemicals,” said Miller. “We call on the Environmental Protection Agency and states to adopt sensible criteria for endocrine disruptors that will completely eliminate or dramatically reduce the ‘acceptable’ levels of these pollutants in waterways.”
Endocrine disruptors persist throughout our nation’s waters and are having profound effects on fish, wildlife, and humans. Endocrine disruptors can enter waterways via wastewater effluent and urban and agricultural runoff. Ingested drugs are excreted in varying metabolized amounts (primarily in urine and feces), and then municipal sewage treatment plants return these endocrine disruptors to our waterways as treated wastewater effluent. Endocrine disruptors can come from aquaculture, spray-drift from agriculture, livestock waste runoff from confined animal feeding operations, medicated pet excreta, or can leach from municipal landfills and septic systems.
Endocrine disruptors present unacceptable human health and environmental risks. The American Medical Association in 2009 called for decreasing public exposure to endocrine disruptors based on overwhelming evidence that humans are unnecessarily being exposed to endocrine disruptors that are having harmful effects. A litany of studies confirm that endocrine disruptors are harming fish and wildlife throughout the nation, including endangered and threatened species such as the razorback sucker in Lake Mead, Nevada, the desert pupfish in Salton Trough, California, and the Santa Ana sucker in the Santa Ana River in Southern California. A recent study of fish in the Potomac River in Maryland found that because of pollution by endocrine disruptors, more than 80 percent of fish surveyed were so-called intersex fish (with male and female reproductive parts) that cannot reproduce.
Pharmaceutical residues, including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, and mood stabilizers have been detected in drinking water in 24 major metropolitan areas serving 41 million people. Recent studies in the lower Columbia River in Oregon and Washington, the lower Colorado River in Nevada, Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia, and Southern California have shown widespread pollution of these areas by unregulated endocrine-disrupting chemicals. In November 2009 the Center requested that Nevada add areas around Lake Mead to that state’s list of impaired waters due to pollution by endocrine-disrupting chemicals and establish and enforce limitations on those chemicals.
An example of an endocrine disruptor that should be regulated under the Clean Water Act is the toxic compound atrazine, the most commonly used herbicide in the United States, which has contaminated groundwater and drinking water over widespread areas. Recent research has linked atrazine to cancer, birth defects, endocrine disruption, and fertility problems in humans. Atrazine also chemically castrates male frogs at extremely low concentrations.
Today’s petition for rulemaking requests that the Environmental Protection Agency establish national recommended water-quality criteria under the Clean Water Act for select endocrine-disrupting chemicals that reflect the latest scientific knowledge about their impacts, and publish information to provide guidance on control, regulation, and water-treatment requirements for endocrine-disruptor pollution. National water-quality criteria set by the Environmental Protection Agency are the basis for state water-quality standards and pollution controls. Under the Clean Water Act, limits established by the federal agency would be the floor for acceptable limits of the pollutants, although states could require stricter limits.