20 Years of Endocrine Disrupter Research – What’s Next?
Markus Hecker, University of Saskatchewan
Over the past two decades there has been increasing concern about the exposure of humans and wildlife to chemicals that have the potential to interact with the endocrine system and reproductive functions. These compounds have been termed endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), and were hypothesized to disrupt normal reproduction or developmental processes which can lead to adverse health effects including infertility, breast and testicular cancer, reproductive dysfunction such as feminization or demasculinization of males and other adverse effects. Endocrine disrupting properties were investigated for a wide range of classes of compounds including natural products, pharmaceuticals, pesticides and other industrial chemicals. One example of such a chemical that has drawn national and international attention over the past years is bisphenol A, a plasticizer that is used in polycarbonate bottles and in liners of food cans, that was recently banned from use in certain products such as baby bottle by some nations. Potential effects of EDCs on wildlife and human health such as feminization of males and breast cancer, respectively, have been discussed extensively for several years in both science and the broader public. In fact, potential hazards associated with the exposure to such compounds has prompted a number of countries, multinational governments and inter-government organizations such as the EU and OECD, respectively, to initiate or amended programs to integrate EDCs into current strategies to assess chemical safety. However, despite the large number of studies that have been conducted to identify the potential mechanisms by which chemicals can interact with the endocrine system and the increasing inclusion of EDCs in environmental monitoring programs, little is known about the risks of these chemicals to people and wildlife. In fact, most of the work on endocrine disruptors has been on the specific mechanisms of chemical disruption and not on ecological or epidemiological implications. This presentation will briefly summarize the current state-of-art of the issue of endocrine disruption. It will review current advances in research using novel scientific tools and concepts, and point out shortcomings,data gaps and research needs with a focus on the ecological relevance of EDCs. Finally, it will provide a brief description of current regulatory approaches and concepts.