Theo Colborn: a pioneer in identifying the problems caused by endocrine disrupting chemicals

On International Women’s Day, ChemTrust wanted to highlight the work of one woman in particular who had a significant impact on the field of endocrine disrupting chemicals, Dr Theo Colborn (1927-2014)

A trained pharmacist, Theo Colborn had an interest in wildlife from an early age. After completing her Master’s degree in science in 1981, she was awarded a PhD in Zoology in 1985 at the age of 58. Colborn undertook research on contaminants in the Great Lakes on the Canada-US border, and it was this research that demonstrated how endocrine disrupting chemicals were entering the environment and altering the development of wildlife. She co-authored the book ‘Our Stolen Future’, and in 2003 founded The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) in the US, a non-profit organisation which aims to reduce the production and use of hormone disrupting chemicals.

ChemTrust sat down with co-founder of CHEM Trust, Elizabeth Salter Green, to talk about the impact that Theo had on the field. Elizabeth previously worked as Director of the WWF-UK Toxics Programme, and has also worked for WWF’s European Policy Office, and for WWF International. Prior to WWF she worked for several years as a marine biologist, and co-authored the book “The Toxic Consumer”.

When did you first hear about Theo’s work?

I first met her when she came to the UK for the launch of her book, ‘Our Stolen Future’ in 1996. I was lucky enough to work with her on European policy on endocrine disrupting chemicals. But I had heard of her before that, as I was working for WWF-UK in the marine programme, and she was working for WWF’s US office.

What contribution did Theo make to the field of endocrine-disrupting chemicals?

Theo Colborn figured out that chemicals could disrupt our development. She was working in the Great Lakes on the Canada-US border in the 80s and could see that the populations of top predators were decreasing. She worked out – of course with the help of colleagues – that once these persistent chemicals were in the mother’s bloodstream they could be passed across to the child, be it an egg or a foetus developing in-utero. She could see that these chemicals had the ability to look like hormones and that they were disrupting the offspring’s development before they were even born. They were causing fertility problems in mammals, raptors’ shells to be too thin, and that was why the populations of top predators were decreasing. In 1991, she brought together 21 scientists from across the world to discuss hormone disrupting chemicals in the environment.

 Were there others working on similar research at the same time?

There were other people looking at chemicals and their impacts on wildlife and humans, but they were not able to work out the mechanism of the chemicals as hormone disruptors. They didn’t use the term endocrine disruptor until Theo had, and then applied the term to their own work. She absolutely led the way.

 What was the impact of her work on future research into endocrine disruptors?

She, with that group of scientists, coined the term ‘endocrine disruptor’, and it was used in all the scientific literature. In 1996, she wrote ‘Our Stolen Future’, which explained how these chemicals could be bad for not only the wildlife that she had studied, but for humans too. I remember her coming to the UK for the book launch, and she and WWF got such bad press for scaremongering. But, by the early 2000s the EU was spending €200 million on endocrine disrupting chemicals research programmes. We had gone from being vilified in 1996, to be the cause of hundreds of millions of euros being spent on research because they knew that Theo’s work was right.

 Was there any impact on policy or chemical regulation?

When Theo came to the UK in 1996, she said these endocrine disrupting chemicals are a problem. So, WWF wrote to the European Commission and told them that they are overlooking this whole group of harmful chemicals in their chemicals legislation, but we were told that nothing was going to be done. So, with Theo’s help, we got an Own Initiative report written in the European Parliament. An Own Initiative report is used if an issue is felt to be really important, but you can’t get leverage with the Commission. In this case, we were fortunate that Kirsten Jensen from the Environment Committee took the leadership in drafting  an Own Initiative report on endocrine disrupting chemicals report in 1998.  Following this report, the Commission had to do something, and that was then when they started to produce a strategy on endocrine disrupting chemicals. It is thanks to Theo Colborn, WWF and the other NGOs, that endocrine disrupting chemicals were put  on the agenda and also into REACH, which is what we use today to regulate harmful chemicals.

 What impact has Theo’s work had globally?

When she brought these scientists together in 1991 they were from all around the world, so it was truly a global group, and so her message had a global reach. There was upset amongst chemical companies and documentaries made all around the world. While she had a global impact, the only part of the world that made formal legislation on endocrine disrupting chemicals was the EU.

 What influence has Theo’s work, or working alongside her, had on your own career?

She has definitely been the inspiration for my life’s work. I personally felt, the way that she did, that unless we get on top of these endocrine disrupting chemicals we were going to undermine the wellbeing of future generations. And then it was almost a perfect storm. Theo was undertaking the research in the US, I was in the UK and understood the science and policy, WWF was the world’s largest environmental organisation, and the European Union was producing environmental legislation to try and protect human health and the environment. We eventually got the EU to include endocrine disrupting properties as a criterion for managing chemicals. That is thanks to Theo, and that is all that my life’s work has been about.

 How is Theo an inspiration for others?

One of the things about Theo is that she was quite softly spoken, she didn’t have a massive ego, she just knew her science was right. She was a woman and most of her adversaries were men in grey suits working for big chemical companies, and she had an enormous adversary in that. I felt that it was one woman espousing the science, with the whole of the chemical industry wanting to shoot her down. But she would not be put off by others, she just kept going because she knew the science was right.

 Also, she had come to this quite late in life. It wasn’t until she was in her 50s, 60s, 70s, that she produced this new hypothesis of hormone disruptors. So, I suppose that says to me, you might have had a career, or children, and be wondering what you can achieve now. Well, Theo started her whole career on endocrine disrupting chemicals in her 50s, and look at the impact that her work has had.

Written by Eleanor Hawke on March 7, 2019.
Reference. Image credit wikimedia.

Twenty-Five Years of Endocrine Disruption Science: Remembering Theo Colborn


For nearly 30 years, Dr. Theo Colborn (1927–2014) dedicated herself to studying the harmful effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals on wildlife, humans, and the environment. More recently, she extended this effort to address the health impacts of unconventional oil and gas development. Colborn was a visionary leader who excelled at synthesizing scientific findings across disciplines. Using her unique insights and strong moral convictions, she changed the face of toxicological research, influenced chemical regulatory policy, and educated the public. In 2003, Colborn started a nonprofit organization—The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX). As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of endocrine disruption science, TEDX continues her legacy of analyzing the extensive body of environmental health research and developing unique educational resources to support public policy and education. Among other tools, TEDX currently uses the systematic review framework developed by the National Toxicology Program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, to answer research questions of pressing concern. In this article, we pay homage to the tenacious woman and the exemplary contribution she made to the field of environmental health. Recommendations for the future of the field are drawn from her wisdom.

The impact of chemicals on children’s brain development

A cause for concern and a need for action

No Brainer

Science has shown that many thousands of people have been exposed to now mostly banned chemicals such as lead and PCBs at high enough levels to have had their brain development negatively affected. This report finds that there are other chemicals which are still in routine use in our homes where there is evidence of similar developmental neurotoxic (DNT) properties, and also identifies huge gaps in our knowledge of the impacts of other chemicals on brain development. It also points out the unpleasant reality that we are constantly exposed to a cocktail of chemicals, something which is still largely ignored by chemical safety laws.

In spite of the lessons of the past, regulators are continuing to only regulate after harm is caused, instead of acting to effectively protect the most precious of things; children’s developing brains.

In June 2007 CHEM Trust wrote the briefing Chemicals Compromising Our Children, which highlighted growing concerns about the impacts of chemicals on brain development in children. Almost 10 years later, CHEM Trust has revisited the issue with this report, which includes contributions from two of the most eminent scientists in this area, Professor Barbara Demeneix (Laboratory of Evolution of Endocrine Regulations, CNRS, Paris) and Professor Philippe Grandjean (Department of Environmental Medicine, University of Southern Denmark, Denmark & Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, USA), who also peer reviewed the report.

Our brain and its development

Download the full report “No Brainer, The impact of chemicals on children’s brain development: a cause for concern and a need for action”, chemtrust, 2017.

Our brains are astoundingly complex, made up of over 85 billion neurons, which have grown, developed and interconnected during our lives. The brain is the organ that takes the longest to develop, with initial stages of cell division, creation of neurons and their migration taking place from the first hours after fertilisation and throughout the foetus’ time in the womb. However, brain development does not stop at birth – it’s not until our twenties that neurons are fully developed with their myelin coats.

Throughout this complex developmental process a range of signalling chemicals and other processes operate in order to control what happens. The thyroid hormone system is intimately involved in brain development and function, yet it is well established that this system can be disrupted – for example by a lack of iodine (essential to make thyroid hormone) or by certain chemicals. If developmental processes are disrupted, this most often creates permanent problems.

The complexity of brain development and function means that deficits can be very subtle – small reductions in IQ, disabilities that exist with a broad spectrum of seriousness such as autism, or in some cases conditions which do not have fully agreed diagnostic criteria.

Disruption of brain development by chemicals

Disruption of brain development by chemicals

We are all exposed to hundreds of man-made chemicals in our daily life, coming from everyday products including food, furniture, packaging and clothes. Many of these chemicals will have no negative effects on us, but it is now well established that some are able to disrupt normal development of the brain. Chemicals with long established DNT properties such as lead, PCBs and methylmercury, have been joined by others where DNT effects have been identified more recently, and which are being used in everyday products. There are also rising concerns about chemicals that are very similar to chemicals that have had their use restricted, but which we continue to use as there isn’t sufficient information about their toxic effects. We know even less about thousands of other chemicals in routine use, which have had no testing for DNT properties.

Chemical exposures are so ubiquitous that experts have recognized that babies are born “pre-polluted”. Scientific paediatric and gynaecology & obstetrics societies have consistently warned about chronic health implications from both acute and chronic exposure to chemicals such as pesticides and endocrine disruptors.

The report identifies evidence of DNT properties for the following chemicals:

  • Bisphenol A (BPA)
    a chemical that was used to make baby bottles, is currently being phased out of till receipts (in the EU), but is still used in the making of food can linings and many polycarbonate plastics. There are also concerns about closely related chemicals that are not restricted, including Bisphenol S.
  • Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs)
    a group of chemicals added to furniture, electronics and building materials. The evidence for neurodevelopmental effects is strongest for the PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ether) group of BFRs, which are already banned or nearly banned in the EU, though they are still in furniture in our homes, and in dust. However, other BFRs are now being found in dust and human blood serum, with concerns that these BFRs might have similar effects.
  • Phthalates
    a group of chemicals used as plasticisers in PVC and in other products. Some chemicals in this group are now banned in the EU, but many others are still in use.
  • Per- and poly-fluorocarbons (PFCs)
    used as non-stick coatings or breathable coatings, are a large group of chemicals, a few of which are in the process of being restricted by the EU. There is evidence that some PFCs can disrupt the action of the thyroid hormone. PFCs are very persistent in the environment, and many of them can accumulate in our bodies – they are routinely found in blood.
  • Perchlorate
    a contaminant of food, related to the use of certain fertilisers and hypochlorite bleach, and is known to disrupt the thyroid hormone system.

Are we protected?

The EU has the most sophisticated regulations in the world for controlling chemical use. However, there are a number of key flaws in this system:

  • There is often inadequate safety information about individual chemicals, including a lack of information about neurodevelopmental effects.
  • The processes to ban chemicals are too slow, and the restrictions created often have big loopholes as a result of industry lobbying.
  • Chemicals are addressed one at a time, so one chemical may have its use restricted, but closely related chemicals remain in use.
  • We are always exposed to multiple chemicals, but regulations almost always assume we are only exposed to one at a time, even though numerous scientists have shown that chemical effects can add together in our bodies.

Policy recommendations

It is clear that our children are not currently being protected from chemicals that can disrupt brain development. We have identified a range of policy measures that could improve the situation, including:

  • Acting faster to ban chemicals of concern, including addressing groups of similar substances, not just those where we have the most information.
  • Ensuring that any safety testing of chemicals includes evaluation of DNT effects.
  • Ensuring better identification and regulation of neurodevelopmental toxic chemicals.
  • Ensuring that all uses of chemicals are properly regulated; for example there is a lack of effective regulation of chemicals in food packaging including paper, card, inks, glues and coatings.
  • The UK and Ireland should remove the requirement for an open flame test for furniture. This test is not required in the rest of the EU, and leads to increased use of flame retardant chemicals.

Finally, it is important to note that EU regulations have already controlled a number of chemicals of concern, and that EU laws provide a tool to address these problems. We therefore think it is vital for the UK Government to work to stay aligned with EU chemicals laws, whatever the eventual outcome of the UK’s Brexit process.

Though full protection will only come from proper regulation of chemicals, the report also includes a chapter with tips for reducing your and your family’s exposures in daily life.

Sources and More Information

  • Download the full report “No Brainer The impact of chemicals on children’s brain development: a cause for concern and a need for action”, chemtrust, 2017.
  • IT’S A NO BRAINER! Action needed to stop children being exposed to chemicals that harm their brain development!, chemtrust, MARCH 7, 2017.

Food Contact Materials : the Problems with the EU Laws

Chemicals in food contact materials: a gap in the internal market, a failure in public protection

Food Contact Materials – food packaging, factory equipment, food utensils – almost everything we eat has been in contact with one or more of these items. The EU’s laws should ensure that chemicals used in these materials are safe, but they do not go far enough and contain holes.

CHEM Trust Policy BriefingChemicals in food contact materials: A gap in the internal market, a failure in public protection“, first published on 26th January 2016, outlines the key problems, and proposes some solutions.

European Parliament study and draft MEP report confirm problems with EU laws on food contact chemicals, chemtrust, MAY 12, 2016.

The debate on the regulation of chemicals in food contact materials is starting to heat up, with a new studyFood Contact Materials Regulation (EC) 1935/2004″ from the European Parliament’s Research Service (EPRS) echoing many of the criticisms that CHEM Trust made.


Food contact materials (FCMs) are widely used in everyday life in the form of food packaging, kitchen utensils, tableware, etc. When put in contact with food, the different materials may behave differently and transfer their constituents to the food. Thus, if ingested in large quantities, FCM chemicals might endanger human health, or change the food itself. Therefore, food contact materials are subject to legally binding rules at EU level, currently laid down in Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004 which aims at ensuring FCM safety but also the effective functioning of the internal market in FCM goods.

The regulation sets up a general safety requirement applicable to all possible food contact materials and articles, and envisages a possibility for the adoption of specific safety requirements (i.e. further harmonisation at EU level) for seventeen FCMs listed in Annex I to Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004. So far, specific safety requirements have been adopted only for four FCMs: plastics (including recycled plastics), ceramics, regenerated cellulose and so-called active and intelligent materials. Where specific requirements have not been adopted at EU level, Member States could adopt such measures at national level, which is the case for several widely used FCMs, such as: paper & board, metals & alloys, glass, coatings, silicones, rubbers, printing inks etc.

However, as reported by the majority of stakeholders participating in this survey, the lack of specific measures at EU level for some food contact materials/articles negatively impacts the functioning of the internal market for the relevant material/article and its food safety. Stakeholders – across businesses, consumers, environmental and health NGOs, researchers, as well as Member States’ competent authorities – are in favour of specific measures at EU level for the FCMs that are not yet harmonised at EU level.

Read and download the whole report Food Contact Materials – Regulation (EC) 1935/2004, European Implementation Assessment Study, May 2016.

EDCs Regulation: Now is the Time to put this Right, EU Commission!

Endocrine disruptors: ‘Better Regulation’ or better public health?

Endocrine disruptors pose a substantial risk to public health, yet the European Commission has dawdled time and again on introducing measures that would finally limit their use. Now is the time to put this right, write Genon Jensen, Director of HEAL, and Michael Warhurst, Executive Director of CHEM Trust.

pesticide-use-farming image
EDC-use in pesticides is a major health concern. Will Fuller: “I also noticed that the driver was wearing a mask on one of his trips round,. surely if he feels the need to protect himself he should reconsider spraying right outside our front door”.

Endocrine disruptors: ‘Better Regulation’ or better public health?, EurActiv, Mar 2, 2016.

Over twenty years ago, scientists began to be concerned about chemicals that could disrupt our body’s sensitive hormone (or endocrine) system, which are particularly crucial in development and reproduction, also known as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). In spite of the fact that chemicals with these properties are found in everyday products, the EU still has not agreed the criteria to identify such EDC chemicals.

Without such criteria the people of Europe – and our environment – are not being properly protected and concerns continue to mount in medical and cancer communities and among leading global endocrine experts.

EU legislation on controlling the use of pesticides and biocides stated that the European Commission should determine these scientific criteria for EDC identification by December 2013. Due to the Commission’s failure to publish criteria by that deadline, Sweden launched a legal challenge in the European Court of Justice.

Its December 2015 verdict stated that the executive was in breach of EU law and that the criteria to determine endocrine disrupting properties can only be done in an objective manner, based on the scientific data in relation to the endocrine system, independently of any other consideration. It ruled there was no obligation to do an impact assessment.

It is now 2016. We welcome the European Commission’s promise to finally propose the criteria “by the summer”. However, in the meantime the Commission has prioritised the Better Regulation approach with carrying out impact assessments that focus on cost to businesses. This is why we are concerned about how they will select the EDC criteria to propose. The executive seems to be putting much more effort into speeding up the impact assessment of different options for criteria than into the scientific justification of the criteria themselves.

In our view, it is clear that the best criteria for identifying endocrine disrupters are those in option 3 of the executive’s roadmap, using the definition from the World Health Organisation, with three categories (rankings based on the weight of evidence), similar to the current EU identification system for carcinogens, mutagens and reprotoxic compounds.

If the European Commission was looking for a quick way to follow the court ruling, the next step would obviously be to go ahead and adopt the draft criteria proposal from June 2013, which are already the product of a great deal of Commission-led, Commission-funded, and member state expert work and deliberation. To date, we have not yet heard any specific argument from the executive against the scientific validity of these identification criteria.

The Commission likes to stress the pioneering work on the EDC criteria, as do we. Such criteria would make Europe the first in the world to have official identification anchored in law.

But if the criteria finally proposed by European civil servants, and chosen by our national government officials, are not good at identifying the hormone disruptors to which we are exposed, and which pose a threat to our health and environment, our pioneering efforts will have ended in failure.

The good news is that scientific assessments and tools are already available, even though there is still the need for more and better tests and screens. EDCs have already been identified under REACH according to the WHO definition. This demonstrates that EDC identification is possible and workable in a regulatory context.

It is important to note that the identification of a chemical as an EDC is just the first stage of a regulatory process, which does not mean a total immediate ban. In the case of pesticides, if there is no safer alternative and a chemical is still needed due to a “serious danger to plant health”, then its use can continue.

For a biocide, use can continue if a ban would lead to a “disproportionate negative impact”. In the REACH authorisation process, the regulators can consider a socioeconomic assessment of the consequences of use versus non-use. But any decision-making on the necessity versus problems of the uses will not work well if we have not identified the EDCs correctly in the first place.

HEAL and CHEM Trust have joined over 60 groups in the EDC Free Europe coalition to write to all 28 environment and health ministers prior to the next Environment Council meeting this Friday (4 March). We asked them to defend the law they made in order to protect our health and to demand that the Commission immediately complies with the ruling of the ECJ.

This could mean picking up the draft scientific criteria proposed in June 2013 and putting it through the internal Commission consultation as soon as possible. It would use valuable work that’s already been completed, and Europe could move on and start transitioning to sustainable agriculture and healthier farmers and societies.

Chemicals in food contact materials: CHEMtrust Policy Briefing

A gap in the internal market, a failure in public protection

image of food-packaging
CHEMtrust intend to update their briefing as this policy area develops. Food packaging via hypescience.

CHEMtrust briefing “Chemicals in food contact materials: A gap in the internal market, a failure in public protection“, first published on 26th January 2016, outlines the key problems, and proposes some solutions.

Food packaging, factory equipment, food utensils – almost everything we eat has been in contact with one or more of these items. The EU’s laws should ensure that chemicals used in these materials are safe, but they do not go far enough and contain holes.

These holes – for example a lack of harmonised rules on paper and card, inks, coatings and adhesives – mean that public health is not properly protected, and also lead to disruption of the internal market.

UK charity call for partial glyphosate ban and more research on its carcinogenicity

NGOs call for partial glyphosate ban, 2015

This post content is published by CHEM Trust, Protecting people and the environment from harmful hormone/endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) at the UK, EU and international level.

Glyphosate: The WHO says it’s probably carcinogenic, but what about the EU?

In March, the World Health Organisation classified the widely-used herbicide Glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. CHEM Trust has joined with over 45 organisations to send a letter to EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, urging him to take precautionary action on the use of glyphosate, given these ongoing discussions regarding its carcinogenic properties.

In the letter we express our concern about an assessment for the renewal of glyphosate’s EU authorisation which has been produced by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), which has been criticised for downplaying positive findings of carcinogenicity. The BfR report aims to form the basis for a re-approval of glyphosate in Europe, as the current authorization expires this year and has recently been extended to June 2016. However, EU pesticide law states that pesticide active substances which are classified as carcinogenic under EU law should not be approved for use.

The letter calls on the Health Commissioner to:

  • Ask the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to carry out a thorough analysis of glyphosate’s carcinogenicity and other relevant endpoints as part of its forthcoming assessment of the harmonised classification and labelling of this substance;
  • Ensure that the peer review of the BfR report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is scientifically robust and credible, incorporating the outcome of the harmonised classification and labelling;
  • Immediately impose a ban on the use of glyphosate in applications where it results in the greatest public and worker exposure, either directly or through residues in food.

Ninja Reineke, Senior Policy Adviser to CHEM Trust, said:

“Given our widespread exposure to glyphosate, the WHO’s classification of glyphosate as probable carcinogen is highly concerning. Several shops have already started taking products with glyphosate from their shelves. When will the Commission get active and take precautionary measures to protect our health?”

Growing market potential for safer chemicals

Safer chemicals are good for business, creating jobs and growth

A major US-based study has found that producing and using safer chemicals is good for business, and recommends that companies that are not already evaluating the potential of safer chemicals should do so. The study estimates that the market for safer chemicals has 24 times the growth potential of the worldwide conventional chemicals market , and that job creation in safer goods and services is well ahead of the conventional chemical industry.

A new US report finds significant market growth potential for safer, less toxic chemicals. The report from Trucost, an independent research firm, builds a strong case for the growing market potential for safer chemicals based on an in depth examination of economic research, market trends, and interviews with business across the value chain. The research was commissioned by the Green Chemistry & Commerce Council (CG3) and the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC).

The report entitled, Making the Business & Economic Case for Safer Chemistry, evaluates the potential business and economic value of safer chemistry. This includes reducing the use and generation of hazardous substances, reducing the human health and environmental impacts of processes and products, and creating safer products. The research included interviews with 17 industry experts, as well as a review of literature and available data on the business and economic opportunities achievable through safer chemistry and the business and economic value at risk from not adopting safer chemistry.

Report Key Findings:

  • The market for safer chemicals is estimated to have 24 times the growth of conventional chemicals market worldwide, from 2011 to 2020.
  • A growing market demand for safer ingredients across various products, including personal care, cleaning products, baby products, apparel and footwear, healthcare, electronics, building materials and furnishings.
  • Potential financial costs of conventional chemistry, including regulatory fines, loss of access to markets, and social costs of accidents and incidents are driving the market for safer alternatives.
  • Job growth in safer goods and services is well ahead of conventional chemical industry.
Sources and more information
  • New US report shows growing market potential for safer chemicals,
    trucost, 06 May 2015.
  • Safer chemicals are good for business, creating jobs and growth,
    chemtrust, JULY 28, 2015.

Toxic Chemicals from fracking could significantly affect wildlife, people in the UK, EU

Chemical Pollution from fracking report and recommendations

This post content is published by CHEMtrust
 protecting humans and wildlife from harmful chemicals.

fracking-site image
In CHEM Trust’s view there should be an EU-wide moratorium on fracking until all their recommendations regarding regulations, chemical disclosure, monitoring, regulators, location water supply are in place.
Fracking site image by Wilderness Committee © All rights reserved.

High volume hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’, is a controversial technology used for extracting oil or gas resources which are trapped in shale rocks, coal seams and similar deposits. In the US, where fracking is carried out extensively, there are many examples of fracking causing chemical pollution leading to health and environmental impacts.

Due to our concerns about fracking, CHEM Trust commissioned a detailed examination of the impacts of fracking with respect to chemical pollution; the detailed reportChemical Pollution from Fracking” is also available here.

This briefing summarises the “Chemical Pollution from Fracking” report, discussing some of the latest developments and includes our recommendations for the future.

Fracking operations require large numbers of wells, and need substantial volumes of water and chemicals. This chemical use, combined with the substances that flowback from underground, makes fracking a potentially significant source of air, land and water pollution.

In addition, fracking operations also generate substantial noise and air pollution from vehicles and other equipment. Note that in this briefing we use the term ‘fracking’ to cover the entire process of shale gas exploration and production.

Our key recommendations are:

  1. All chemicals used in fracking must be disclosed, with no provision for commercial confidentiality.
  2. Stronger EU regulation of fracking is required, ensuring that Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) are required for all sites, chemical use is controlled and transparent, effective monitoring is obligatory and wastewater management is safe, including an absolute ban on disposal of wastewater by re-injection into the ground.
  3. Regulations must protect the environment and people even when fracking wells are no longer used, including financial bonds to cover clean-up costs.
  4. Effective monitoring and enforcement is essential to ensure that regulatory controls are followed. This means that regulators must have the resources to carry out these functions; this is a particular concern in the UK where the Environment Agency (EA) is experiencing substantial budget cuts.

In CHEM Trust’s view there should be an EU-wide moratorium on fracking until all their recommendations regarding regulations, chemical disclosure, monitoring, regulators, location water supply are in place.

Sources and more information

  • Fracking pollution: How toxic chemicals from fracking could affect wildlife and people in the UK and EU, CHEMtrust, June 2015.
  • Chemical Pollution from Fracking report, written by Philip J Lightowlers for CHEM Trust, updated April 2015.
  • Fracking – Our recommendations, CHEMtrust.
  • Chemicals from fracking could cause significant pollution and damage to wildlife, CHEMtrust, by MICHAEL WARHURST on JUNE 20, 2015

The interactive effects of climate change and endocrine disrupting chemicals on population viability

Climate change could worsen effects of EDC pollution

The study results indicate that higher temperatures associated with climate change can amplify the effects of EDCs.
Image by World Bank Photo Collection.

2014 Study Significance

Climate change impacts on wildlife populations are likely to be accentuated by pollution. Small (inbred) populations may be more vulnerable to these effects, but empirical data supporting these hypotheses are lacking. We present the first substantial empirical evidence, to our knowledge, for interactive effects on population viability of elevated temperature (climate); an endocrine disrupting chemical, clotrimazole (pollution); and inbreeding. Using the zebrafish (Danio rerio) as a model, we show these three factors interact to skew population sex ratios toward males and that this interaction can lead to increased risk of extinction. Our results suggest that climate change and pollution impacts are likely to pose significant extinction risks for small, endangered populations exhibiting environmental sex determination and/or differentiation.

2014 Study Abstract

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are potent environmental contaminants, and their effects on wildlife populations could be exacerbated by climate change, especially in species with environmental sex determination. Endangered species may be particularly at risk because inbreeding depression and stochastic fluctuations in male and female numbers are often observed in the small populations that typify these taxa. Here, we assessed the interactive effects of water temperature and EDC exposure on sexual development and population viability of inbred and outbred zebrafish (Danio rerio). Water temperatures adopted were 28 °C (current ambient mean spawning temperature) and 33 °C (projected for the year 2100). The EDC selected was clotrimazole (at 2 μg/L and 10 μg/L), a widely used antifungal chemical that inhibits a key steroidogenic enzyme [cytochrome P450(CYP19) aromatase] required for estrogen synthesis in vertebrates. Elevated water temperature and clotrimazole exposure independently induced male-skewed sex ratios, and the effects of clotrimazole were greater at the higher temperature. Male sex ratio skews also occurred for the lower clotrimazole exposure concentration at the higher water temperature in inbred fish but not in outbred fish. Population viability analysis showed that population growth rates declined sharply in response to male skews and declines for inbred populations occurred at lower male skews than for outbred populations. These results indicate that elevated temperature associated with climate change can amplify the effects of EDCs and these effects are likely to be most acute in small, inbred populations exhibiting environmental sex determination and/or differentiation.

Sources and more information
  • Climate change could worsen effects of EDC pollution, chemtrust, MAY 7, 2015.
  • Climate change and pollution speed declines in zebrafish populations, E1237–E1246, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1416269112, January 26, 2015.

Been handed a till receipt today? Do you know that many contain BPA?

Hormone disrupting chemical BPA can transfer from receipts into our bloodstream

Art-Tweets-on-a-Till-roll-Receipt image
Thermal receipt paper – which you probably have sitting in your purse or wallet now – can contaminate your hands with hormone disrupting BPA, which can then be absorbed into your body. Image by Paul Downey.

2014 Study Abstract

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an endocrine disrupting environmental contaminant used in a wide variety of products, and BPA metabolites are found in almost everyone’s urine, suggesting widespread exposure from multiple sources. Regulatory agencies estimate that virtually all BPA exposure is from food and beverage packaging. However, free BPA is applied to the outer layer of thermal receipt paper present in very high (~20 mg BPA/g paper) quantities as a print developer. Not taken into account when considering thermal paper as a source of BPA exposure is that some commonly used hand sanitizers, as well as other skin care products, contain mixtures of dermal penetration enhancing chemicals that can increase by up to 100 fold the dermal absorption of lipophilic compounds such as BPA. We found that when men and women held thermal receipt paper immediately after using a hand sanitizer with penetration enhancing chemicals, significant free BPA was transferred to their hands and then to French fries that were eaten, and the combination of dermal and oral BPA absorption led to a rapid and dramatic average maximum increase (Cmax) in unconjugated (bioactive) BPA of ~7 ng/mL in serum and ~20 µg total BPA/g creatinine in urine within 90 min. The default method used by regulatory agencies to test for hazards posed by chemicals is intra-gastric gavage. For BPA this approach results in less than 1% of the administered dose being bioavailable in blood. It also ignores dermal absorption as well as sublingual absorption in the mouth that both bypass first-pass liver metabolism. The elevated levels of BPA that we observed due to holding thermal paper after using a product containing dermal penetration enhancing chemicals have been related to an increased risk for a wide range of developmental abnormalities as well as diseases in adults.

Sources and more information
  • Holding Thermal Receipt Paper and Eating Food after Using Hand Sanitizer Results in High Serum Bioactive and Urine Total Levels of Bisphenol A (BPA), PLOS one, O2014, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0110509, ctober 22.
  • Hormone disrupting chemical Bisphenol A can transfer from receipts into our bloodstream, chemtrust, OCTOBER 22, 2014.