EPA Petitioned to Regulate Chemicals That Pose Widespread Risks to Human and Animal Reproduction

For Immediate Release

EPA Petitioned to Regulate Chemicals That Pose Widespread Risks to Human and Animal Reproduction

SAN FRANCISCO - The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today to establish water-quality criteria for numerous endocrine-disrupting chemicals
under the Clean Water Act, the first step in regulating and eliminating
persistent and widespread chemicals that damage reproductive functions
in wildlife and humans.

“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.”

Background

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.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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