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Endocrine disruptors: challenge for research and legislation

Experts discussed new approaches to analyses and risk assessment on the International Fresenius Conference

Dortmund, Frankfurt (Germany), 15 June 2011

An endocrine disruptor is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO/ICPS) as "an exogenous substance or mixture that alters function(s) of the endocrine system and consequently causes adverse health effects in an intact organism, or its progeny, or (sub)populations." Endocrine disruptors are able to interfere with developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune processes in both humans and animals. International experts discussed latest developments in this field at the 2nd International Fresenius Conference on "Endocrine Disruptors" from 7 to 8 June 2011 in Frankfurt/Germany.

Markus Ebeling (Bayer CropScience) described the function of the endocrine system of mammals as a communication network, with hormones as messengers. "Typically, hormones are produced in glands, transported in the bloodstream before binding to specialized receptors and triggering the corresponding biochemical response," he explained. The overall function of the endocrine system is to maintain or adapt self-regulation of physiological functions.

Risk assessment for wild mammals

In Ebeling’s opinion, risk assessment for wild mammals is possible for endocrine disruptors. Risk assessment needed appropriate exposure information (fate and behaviour, accumulation potential) for relevant ecological scenarios. The ultimate protection goal for wild mammals was not the individual but the population, Ebeling said. The effect and risk assessment should primary be concerned with the severity of possible impacts, the scale and likelihood of occurrence of such effects, and the potential and time scale for recovery. The expert suggested that the absence of lethal toxicity was insufficient to finally estimate a chemical’s hazardousness – sublethal effects might appear much later than exposure. Ebeling: "Corresponding long-term studies are able to fill this knowledge gap." Predictions for the impact on wild mammal populations could not be made without a corresponding understanding of the chemical exposure in the field, and particularly the biology of the species of concern, Ebeling concluded.

Helpful versus harmful: the potential of pesticides

"The fact that some crop protection chemicals have the potential to interact with the endocrine system does not necessarily mean that this would lead to harmful effects", Dave French (Syngenta, Switzerland) said. According to him, the current regulatory testing battery for toxicology and ecotoxicology had been already designed to detect such harmful effects. This was reflected in the fact that many pesticides with endocrine disruptors concerns had been highly regulated or banned, yet. The industry supported the WHO/ICPS definition of endocrine disruption and proposed that a weight-of-evidence approach should be followed to determine whether any endocrine-related effects are genuinely adverse, French said. He claims that the final regulatory definition should be proportionate to the risks presented.

EDSP on the test bench – regulatory activities in the USA

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed a tiered process to identify endocrine disruptors, the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (EDSP). Wendelyn Jones (CropLife America) pointed out that developing and validating a new chemical screening and testing program is very resource intensive and requires effective stakeholder input throughout the process. From her point of view, currently EDSP implementation lacks critical elements for a successful program. "Test Order recipients are uncertain as to how the program will work, "she explained. Information could be misused to label chemicals as so called endocrine disruptors prior to the existence of evidence to support such a claim resulting in a loss of attention on those substances that are endocrine disruptors. Science-based policy supported by research solutions was an essential foundation to the future, Jones claimed.

The complete Fresenius conference documentation including scripts from all the presentations can be purchased at the Akademie Fresenius for 295,00 € (plus VAT) or here.

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