Xenoestrogens: a shockwave – a hidden danger

With all this talk about shockwaves, I wish to nominate one that has the worst combination of factors, making it deserving of more study than getting today.

  • grossly understudied
  • decent probability of occurance
  • high impacts

For a introduction to this subject see the Wikipedia page on Xenoestrogens.  Note the references to many articles and books on the subject.  This is not “better living through chemistry.”

For a detailed analysis see “Widespread feminisation of male wildlife raises the alarm”, Gwynne Lyons, CHEM Trust, 7 December 2008 — About the effect of hormone-disrupting or so-called ‘gender-bending’ chemicals in the environment, and the implications for human health.

From the press release

In mammals, genital disruption in males has been widely reported, including: intersex features (such as egg tissue in the testes of the male); small phallus; small testes; undescended testes; abnormal testes; or ambiguous genitals.

In the UK, effects on otters and seals are generating concern. A UK study of road-kill otters published last year noted that otters with higher levels of organochlorine contaminants had shorter baculums (penis bones), (1) and this year more otters than ever previously reported have been found with un-descended testes. (2) Furthermore seal populations have not increased again since they were decimated by the outbreak of phocine distemper virus in 2002. The reduced number of seals in the North Sea off eastern England is puzzling scientists, who are now planning to examine their reproductive health. (3)

Species across the globe have been damaged, including polar bears in the Arctic and eland antelopes in Africa. (4)

The males of egg-laying species including fish, amphibians, birds, and reptiles have also been feminised by exposure to sex hormone disrupting chemicals and have been found to be abnormally making egg yolk protein, normally made by females. Affected species are widespread, and include, flounder in UK estuaries, cod in the North Sea, cane toads in Florida, peregrine falcons in Spain, and turtles from the Great Lakes in North America.

Gwynne Lyons, author of the report and director of CHEM Trust commented:

Urgent action is needed to control gender bending chemicals, and more resources are needed for monitoring wildlife. Man-made chemicals are clearly damaging the basic male tool-kit. If wildlife populations crash, it will be too late. Unless enough males contribute to the next generation, there is a real threat to animal populations in the long term.

It has now been shown, beyond doubt, that several ‘gender benders’ can act together as a mixture or cocktail to cause effects even when individually each chemical is below the concentration at which it would cause harm on its own. EU regulators must ensure legislation takes this real-world ‘mixture effect’ into account or reproduction will be put in jeopardy. Sadly, during negotiations of the forthcoming EU pesticides Regulation, the UK Government was one of just 3 Member States (5) not to back the proposed tough controls to cut-off the use of hormone disrupting pesticides.

About CHEM Trust

 CHEM = Chemicals, Health and Environment Monitoring.  CHEM Trust’s aim is to protect humans and wildlife from harmful chemicals. Based in the UK, it was set up in 2007 to take over the mantle of work on toxic chemicals of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-UK) (see WWF’s Wikipedia entry for more information).

Links to two of the many articles on this subject

An excellent introduction to the debate:  “Fooling with Nature“, Public Broadcasting System, no date given (probably circa 1999) —  Esp note the timeline of Endocrine Disruption and Man-Made Chemicals — this is not a new issue.

Hormonally Active Agents in the Environment“, by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Science, 1999 (430 pages) — The PDF of the summary is free; or you can view chapters online.  Here is the opening of the Executive Summary, which gives the conclusions of the Committee.  They recommend more study.

Concern has been raised in recent years regarding potential adverse effects of various environmental contaminants often called “endocrine disruptors” and referred to in this report as “hormonally active agents” C(HAAs). In part, this concern originated from the finding that some synthetic chemicals in the environment that are associated with adverse reproductive and developmental effects in wildlife mimic the actions of the female sex hormone estradiol. In addition, the effects of in utero exposure to the potent synthetic estrogen diethylstilbestrol (DES) in the offspring of treated women and the replication of these effects in mice have focused attention on embryonic development as a target for the potential disruptive effects of environmental agents with hormonal activity.

Although it is clear that exposures to HAAs at high concentrations can affect wildlife and human health, the extent of harm caused by exposure to these compounds in concentrations that are common in the environment is debated.


If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below. You may find answers to your questions in these.

Please share your comments by posting below. Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post. Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp relevance to this topic:

Posts on the FM site about shockwaves:

  1. The most dangerous form of Peak Oil, 8 April 2008
  2. The “Oil Shockwave” project: well-funded analysis of the obvious, 10 April 2008
  3. Peak Oil Doomsters debunked, end of civilization called off, 8 May 2008
  4. Spreading the news: the end is nigh!, 8 May 2008
  5. What does $120 oil mean for the global economy?, 15 May 2008
  6. There is no “peak water” crisis, 19 June 2008
  7. A reply to comments on FM site about Global Warming, 17 November 2008
  8. We are so vulnerable to so many things. What is the best response?, 30 December 2008
  9. Comment: warnings about a reversal of Earth’s magnetic field, 30 December 2008
  10. About our certain doom from the Yellowstone supervolcano, 11 January 2009

13 thoughts on “Xenoestrogens: a shockwave – a hidden danger”

  1. Ahh, the vital bodily fluids plot again!
    Fabius Maximus replies: You’ve solved the great unasked question in the post: who is doing this? It’s the commies!

  2. Regarding endocrine disruptors in the environment, not only are they a danger to the biosphere, they threaten human males also. While correlation is not casuality, we should never-the-less be concerned about the numerous studies that show declining testosterone rates among young males in the industrialized world, as well as lower sperm counts.

    As Bjorn Lomborg notes in his work, “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” monies and resources that are currently devoted to climate change would be better devoted to solving problems like this one, and also habitat destruction. Preservation of habitat such as wetlands and forests have the effect of not only moderating climate, but of filtering and helping clean the water and the air. However, restoring and reclaiming habitat may not be enough; more benign alternatives to these compounds should be found post-haste.

  3. Estradiol mimicking plastic pollution is a primary source of Xenoestrogens. It enters the lowest level of the ocean food chain by being mistaken as zooplankton and becomes concentrated as it moves up the food chain. Estradiol mimicking plastic mass can exceed zooplankton mass by a factor of up to 7:1 in samples taken from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Gyre in 2001. This garbage patch has been reported to be twice the size of Texas and growing.

    The sexual abnormalities mentioned here have also been reported in growing numbers for some time among ocean going mammals and birds that spend most of their lives far from land. The location of the garbage patch in international waters prevents it from being the liability of any single nation. The floating plastic debris never breaks down but remains as plastic molecules forever.

    Plastic pollution is global, plastic garbage absorbs PCBs, DDT and PAHs, persistent organic pollutants causing hormone disruption. A related but different issue is the incredible amount of birth control hormones (actual estradiol) that pass through sewage treatment plants intact and end up in nearby water supplies or flushed into the coastal areas where a great deal of our seafood comes from.

    A species goes extinct when it can no longer reproduce. 20% of human males are already functionally infertile. Hormone disruption is likely a significant contributor to this increasing human infertility situation.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for the background on this! Any thoughts on the stream of chemicals in wastewater from human contraceptives? Does this have any impacts?

  4. What is the half-life of human estrogen in the environment?

    I don’t think there has ever been an EIS on the Pill. I’m sure the hormone pollution, especially in the ‘cocktail’ mixtures, is causing such damage.

    I also believe agro-industry growth hormones are an undiagnosed cause of obesity, thru the same accumulation of ‘under the threshold’ of multiple chemicals.

    Good call on catching this schockwave.

  5. Here’s a question: How do we resolve the apparent contradiction of widespread believe in endemic pollution of the seas and oceans, with the widespread popularity of sea salt in the diet.

  6. And for a fictionalization of a possible outcome, see the movie ‘The Children Of Men’. A dark warring world where the last human birth was recorded 30 years ago.

  7. Glad you have figured out why we the people voted for Obama. Will you tell us next how we can get our balls back?
    Fabius Maximus replies: For more on this see the following posts.
    * Americans, now a subservient people (listen to the Founders sigh in disappointment), 20 July 2008
    * de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
    * The American spirit speaks: “Baa, Baa, Baa”, 5 August 2008
    * We’re Americans, hear us yell: “baa, baa, baa”, 6 August 2008
    * This crisis will prove that Americans are not sheep (unless we are), 8 January 2008

  8. Good topic FM, that is not given as much attention as it should.

    One thing worries me is combinations of different chemicals. The old A is ok by itself. B is also ok by itelf. But A+B is very dangerous. Not nearly enough research into this by any (usually underfunded) agency in the world.

    Me I’d research deeply any potential negative impacts, and no I dont accept the ‘zero sum game’ argument, in that cuts should be made in one area to fund another.

    Basic risk avoidence and cost reduction logic .. its cheaper to avoid than fix the effects in nearly all cases. Or as Stafford Beer said “disolve the problem, not solve it”.

    Heck, the bonus’s, stock options, etc that made Poulson $500 million would fund a lot of research into a lot of areas .. to take a very topical example.

    The ‘Marching Moron’ syndrome I always worry about? I suppose you can make that now the “Marching Sterile Moron” syndrome now. Because the brain is so delicate, especially in embryo, that no one knows the impacts of the chemical soup we all live in now .. and we won’t find out for decades.

  9. Great topic, thanks.

    Science alone will not address the root causes of such dilemmas.

    Funny how our materialistic hubris undermines that same Nature over which we presume superior status.

  10. Rising precocious puberty is 10 times more common in girls than in boys. Over the course of just a few decades, the childhoods of U.S. girls have been significantly shortened.

    Girls get their first periods, on average, a few months earlier than did girls 40 years ago. But they get their breasts, on average, one to two years earlier. Recent studies show that the advent of breast budding, one of the earliest visible signs of puberty, appears to be arriving earlier and earlier in the lives of U.S. girls. This could have huge impacts on breast cancer that is estrogen driven.

    Researchers led by a Weill Cornell Medical College scientist have pinpointed the hormone estrogen as a key player in about half of all prostate cancers. Endocrine disrupting chemicals are also found in common flame retardants, shampoos, body lotions and cleaning products.

    “Our Stolen Future” by Theo Colburn, Diane Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers, published 2 decades ago, was the first big wake-up call. Agro-industry growth hormones have been more closely implicated in cancer formation than human endocrine disruption.

    Avoid polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products, including vinyl shower curtains and toys and packaging that bear the number “3,” indicating they’re made with PVC.

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