Battling Hormone Havoc A Call to Arms Against Toxins in the Global Commons BY NEIL J. CARMAN OUR STOLEN FUTURE. By Theo Colburn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers. Dutton, 1996. 306 pages. $24.95. DYING FROM DIOXIN. By Lois Marie Gibbs and the Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste. South End Press, 1995. THE MAKING OF A CONSERVATIVE ENVIRONMENTALIST. by Gordon K. Durnil. Indiana University Press, 1995. 200 pages. $19.95. HORMONE HAVOC. What in the heck is hormone havoc? In recent years, biological scien tists have determined that certain synthetic chemicals can mimic the actions of human and natural hormones, and researchers now express serious concerns about the hazards of these modern chemicals, which appear to be impairing sensitive biological hormone systems throughout the global commons. What’s at stake? Fetal and infant development. Fertility and reproductive health. Immune response to microbes like the HIV virus. Endocrine gland functions. Intelligence and behavior. Family happiness and social stability. Biodiversity. That is to say, virtually everything we value in life. As a result of these scientific findings, a global call to anns has begun resonating in the public consciousness, in response to the conviction that some type of toxic pollution is breaking down the fragile threads of life on earth. The chief suspects are “hormone mimickers,” like dioxin, PCBs, and the original nemesis, DDT. These toxins are especially dangerous in themselves, and also because they are extremely stable chemicals; once present in nature, they do not break down for decades, thereby representing potential harm to future generations. As a consequence, earth’s fragile life-support systems are being bathed in thousands of Neil J. Carman is a former Air Quality Regional Field Investigator for the Texas Air Control Board, and the Clean Air Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club in Austin. these synthetic chemicals, constantly released into the environment by conventional industrial processes and careless use of chemicals. This toxic chemical soup accumulates and persists in our water, air, soil, wildlife, food, and bodies, where the biological hormone systems can be tricked into self-destructive consequences. THESE THREE BOOKS, each of which is based upon a compelling “weight-of-evidence,” emerge from the divergent angles of scientists, politicians and citizens; yet each concludes that our global future is in peril from the hormone havoc of dioxin and dioxin-like substances. Lois Gibbs’ Dying From Dioxin is revolutionary, in its grassroots style and practical suggestions, like the launching of a “Stop Dioxin Exposure Campaign.” Gordon Durnil’s The Making of a Conservative Environmentalist is an enlightened political statement, rare in these times, on the compatibility of conservative and environmental values. The most recent book, the grimly titled Our Stolen Future is in effect a sequel to Rachel Carson’s environmental classic, Silent Spring. Environmental scientists Theo Colburn and John Myers and award-winning environmental writer Dianne Dumanoski have gathered the evidence of the damage wreaked by synthetic chemicals: fifty percent worldwide decline in sperm counts, rising numbers of birth defects, and an alarming montage of similar evidence, developing over four decades. Our Stolen Future reads like a real-life scifi thriller, tracing how quickly dioxin may be speeding us toward the edge of an ecological Armageddon. Gibbs provides a basic definition of dioxin: “Dioxin is the common name for a family of chemicals with similar properties and toxicity. Seventy-five different forms of dioxin exist, the most toxic being 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, or TCDD.” Dioxins are accidental byproducts of industrial processes that use chlorine, or processes that burn chlorine with organic matter. TCDD is more toxic than such well-known poisons as PCBs, DDT, or mercury, and now occurs ubiquitously in our polluted world. Gibbs highlights the U.S. sources of dioxin with informative maps, tables and figure. The most disturbing is table 9-2, listing the fifty-two known health effects associated with dioxin and dioxin-like chemicals, as briefly summarized: cancers, male and female reproductive toxicity, effects on fetal development, skin disorders, metabolic and hormonal changes, nervous system damage, liver damage, immune system damage, lung ailments, heart damage, and gastrointestinal problems. Colborn notes that the discovery of manmade chemicals mimicking hormones is not really a new one. In 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring warned of an unprecedented threat from potent man-made chemicals, such as the “miracle” pesticides like DDT. But Carson only hinted at the theory of synthetic pesticides somehow interfering with hormone levels, and possibly leading to cancers due to “abnormally high estrogen levels.” Medical research has since proven her correct, reinforced by the telltale findings of DDT, DDE, PCBs and related toxins in breast tumors. Carson focused on the premature endpoint of cancer* and did not explore clues about non-cancerous health effects, including reproduction impaired by hormone disruption after DDT exposure. DDT residues have lingered for years after use ended in the U.S.a major reason why persistent chemicals pose a special global hazard unrecognized by industry for decades. Corporate accountability for persistent lacking. A whole new round of warning signs has since confirmed that dozens of novel synthetic substances, like dioxin and PCBs, act as powerful hormone impostorsdisrupting the innate hormones in humans and wildlife, and occurring on a global scale previously unimaginable. Omens of hormone havoc are found everywhere. Human beings, whales, dolphins, polar bears, panthers, seals, otters, bald eagles, gulls, fish, frogs, alligators, and untold other species show both obvious and subtle symptoms of toxic chemical overload. The potential human impacts alone are staggering: millions with cancer, endometriosis, immune system breakdown perhaps even contributing to the auto-immune disruption that allows the development of AIDS. The new evidence re-echoes Carson’s clarion call: that a deluge of synthetic chemicals may be opening up a global Pandora’s box of disharmony, disintegration, disease, death and species destruction. 16 APRIL 19, 1996
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