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Environmental Studies

Endocrine Disrupters and the Pill

Introduction
How EDs Work
Our Stolen Future
Drugs in the Environment
Examples of EDs
Government Testing
Laws
The Pill as an ED
History of the Pill
Case Study: Coastal Waters
Case Study: Fish
Case Study: Men in Italy
Solutions
What you can do!
Further Information


Comments & questions to:
khornbach@macalester.edu



The Break Through: Our Stolen Future


    In the tradition of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, with a catchy narrative style and shocking revelations, Theo Colborn's Our Stolen Future was the first major glimpse into the problem of endocrine disrupters (EDs). Written just ten years ago, the book let Americans and people worldwide know exactly what was going on with their bodies in an age of synthetics. This discovery came from a long string of unexplainable incidents in animal populations throughout the world. Colborn highlights problems with Bald Eagles in Florida dating back to 1952 and continuing through the 1950's until the first human example in 1992 with men's sperm counts worldwide beginning to drop. To Colborn the question was how do these seemingly unrelated incidents worldwide actually connect. There were similarities, all the problems seemed to deal with reproductive functions in the animals and finally in humans. Colborn in fact realized that the problems were all connected to problems with distribution of hormonal control of development.
    From this realization, Colborn goes in search of further support for her hypothesis. She finds Dr. vom Saal at the University of Missouri-Columbia doing research on how slight variations in hormone exposures in the womb can seriously alter the way mice mature. After looking at the way hormones impact mice, Colborn tackles the larger issue of hormone control in women. During the 1950's a synthetic estrogen called diethylstilbestrol (DES) was prescribed to women experiencing difficult pregnancies because of the belief that these women were not producing enough estrogen. DES was actually prescribed to most pregnant women, as doctors thought it would help reduce miscarriages. However, Colborn uncovers research that finds that DES actually does not help with pregnancies, but instead harms the unborn child. DES children are prone to rare forms of cancer, deformed sexual organs, and an increased risk of endometriosis. These negative effects of DES are not usually detected in victims until they go through puberty, when it is too late to treat problems. Colborn's own work, along with bring up DES syndrome, is the way cells are vulnerable to this problem. The problem of the endocrine system and the transfer of synthetic estrogen to receiver cells confused the body's natural system, creating problems within the body. 
    Colborn also brings up the vitally important problem of biomagnification. In her research, Colborn found that as an endocrine disrupter affected a plant or lower level organism on the food chain, the amount of that chemical would increase exponentially as it rose up the food chain. Simply those on the top of the food chain will receive more of a chemical as each organism consumes more organisms carrying EDs. For humans at the top of the food chain, this should be more than slightly disturbing. We will receive the most; we will have the highest doses of EDs. After all Colborn found that even the smallest amounts of EDs, as small as 2 micrograms per kilogram per day, could forever alter and impede proper development in fetuses. EDs are very powerful chemicals that have the possibility of ruining the reproductive capacities of all organisms on this earth. Realize in 1996 all this data was emerging and not fully conclusive yet. Since the books release, scientists, within the Environmental Protection Agency and independent biologist, have been almost obsessed with testing and examining the effects of EDs on all sorts of populations. Data exists, but there are still very few solutions. In 1996, Colborn offered a few solutions for those now worried about the effects of EDs on themselves and their families. Colborn suggests that families should eat organic, to avoid exposure to EDs from pesticides, and not microwave food in plastic containers, to avoid releasing EDs from the plastic, but there is not a clear solution to EDs that she can suggest at this point.

Information on this page taken from the Our Stolen Future website and the book

Last updated:  5/2/2006


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Comments and questions to khornbach@macalester.edu