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House Hearing on Endocrine Disruption

By Eddy Ball
April 2010

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Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.
In addition to her testimony on children's environmental health and her most recent appearance Feb. 25, Birnbaum testified on reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) on Dec. 2, 2009(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2010/january/spotlight-testify.cfm) and Feb. 4, 2010(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2010/march/spotlight-birnbaum.cfm). Birnbaum reflected on her TSCA testimony in an editorial(http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1001917) in the March issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Edward Markey
Markey, shown above at 2008 hearing on global warming, is sponsoring a bill to ban bisphenol A from food and beverage containers and has expressed his concerns about the use of anti-microbials, such as triclosan (see story(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2010/march/science-superfund.cfm)).
(Photo courtesy of U.S. House of Representatives)

With her most recent Congressional testimony, NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., continued her efforts to position the Institute as the nation's premier environmental health science authority. In the past four months alone, Birnbaum has testified before four Congressional hearings investigating the safety and environmental health impact of chemicals.

On Feb. 25, Birnbaum presented oral and written testimony (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/about/assets/docs/testimonybirnbaumfeb252010pdf.pdf)  Download Adobe Reader (203 KB) to the U.S House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Environment(http://energycommerce.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1908:endocrine-disrupting-chemicals-in-drinking-water-risks-to-human-health-and-the-environment&catid=130:subcommittee-on-energy-and-the-environment&Itemid=71) Exit NIEHS chaired by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) addressing "Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in Drinking Water: Risks to Human Health and the Environment." Her testimony underscored the threats to health posed by increasing exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and the pressing need to create "effective strategies to ensure safe drinking water and the health of the American public."

Markey opened the hearing by describing the rising concern among citizens about the poorly understood health effects of exposures to chemicals that interfere with, or mimic, hormones in the human body. "W.C. Fields once said, 'I never drink water because of the disgusting things that the fish are doing to it," Markey observed. "Today people are wondering whether they should drink water that comes out of their taps because of the disgusting things it is doing to the fish - and possibly to them."

Birnbaum opened her five-minute testimony with a statement of the Institute's longstanding interest in EDCs, which she said goes back to the establishment of NIEHS in the 1960s, and presented an overview of the directions of recent research by NIEHS and NTP. She also pointed to four reasons why researchers have concerns about EDC exposures:

  • Low doses matter - "Some chemical exposures, even at low does, may disrupt the body's delicate endocrine system and lead to disease."
  • There is a broad range of health impacts - "When chemicals interfere with endocrine signaling, effects can be seen in many different conditions and diseases."
  • Exposure during development can trigger changes in gene expression - "The health effects of exposure to endocrine disruptors can be observed long after the actual exposure has stopped" and may even result in alterations among members of succeeding generations.
  • EDCs can be found almost everywhere - "Chemicals with endocrine disrupting activity are widely dispersed in our environment, often at biologically effective levels, and exposure to humans is common."

Also testifying before the subcommittee on Feb. 25 were Jim Jones, deputy assistant administrator, Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Gina Solomon, M.D., M.P.H., senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council; and Christopher J. Borgert, Ph.D., president and principal scientist at Applied Pharmacology and Toxicology, Inc.



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