This is a serious issue. I would hope we might engage
in a serious discussion. To date, however, there are signs that
at least some of the people on your side of the aisle would rather
engage in caricature and exaggeration. I will get to this.
First, I thought it might be helpful to tell you
what is in the book. Some significant percentage of the attacks
on the book appear not to be constrained by a few common-sense
boundaries-like what do we actually say in the book-so that if
I can provide you with a brief summary we will at least begin
near the same starting gate. Even if we don't take off in
the same direction.
But perhaps I should ask. . . how many of you have
read the book?
What is the main thesis?
Over the past 30 years, a simple equation has ruled
among regulators and the public at large. Toxic chemicals equal
cancer. Our preoccupation with cancer has blinded us to other
important health effects that are now being linked to man made
chemicals that are ubiquitous in the environment.
The central point of Our Stolen Future is
that some man-made chemicals interfere with the body's own hormones.
These man-made compounds find their way into our bodies through
a variety of pathways. They build up over time, often over years.
Each of us in this room are carrying several hundred chemicals
of different types that were not part of human body chemistry
just a few generations ago.
When a woman becomes pregnant, some fraction of her
contaminant burden is transferred to the fetus. That is when these
man-made compounds appear to cause their damage. They interfere
with the hormonal signals directing development and thus disrupt
fetal growth. Sometimes the effects are conspicuous, sometimes
they are not.
An eminent medical researcher, Dr. Bernard Weiss
of the University of Rochester, calls it "silent damage."
Some of these chemicals alter sexual development. Some undermine
intelligence and behavior. Others make our bodies less resistant
to disease. Sometimes the effects don't appear until a child
reaches puberty or afterward, even though the exposure took place
in the womb.
These chemicals pose the greatest hazard in the earliest
phases of life because hormones orchestrate development. For a
fetus to grow up according to its genetic blueprint, the right
hormone message has to arrive at the right place in the
right amount at the right time.
Think of the fetus in the womb. It's like a sponge
waiting for natural chemical signals from its own genes and from
its mother. These signals tell it how to grow. They have an
immense impact on what it will become. They work their magic
at extraordinarily low dosages. . . with observable impacts down
to concentrations as low as parts per trillion. That's one thousandth
of a part per billion and one millionth of a part per million.
The emerging science we present in our book is about
what happens when something interferes with the delivery of that
message. A signal doesn't arrive because it is blocked. One
that was small becomes large. One that shouldn't have been there
at all shows up nonetheless.
Certain man-made chemicals can do that. Of this
science is certain. Think of it this way. Imagine you're driving
down the road getting directions as you go through your cellular
phone. You arrive at a fork. It's the Dulles toll-road or
495. Just as you have to make your turn, a burst of static arrives.
What sounded like right was supposed to be left. You wind up
on the wrong road. When a hormone disrupter interferes with the
fetal message system, that baby may head down the wrong road for
The first several chapters of the book examine a
chain of evidence that extends from wildlife populations to laboratory
experiments to the epidemiology of exposed groups of people.
There's not a lot in these sections that is controversial.
We are working from a data base of several thousand scientific
publications. Over 70 scientists have participated directly in
deliberations that have produced a series of consensus statements
about the nature of the problem. This is not fringe science.
7 basic points.
What are some of the effects?
These impacts I have just listed are well-documented
in the scientific literature. The
real controversy created by the book arises because after we examine
the basic science from wildlife, lab animals and relevant human
studies we then ask a larger set of questions.
Given these findings,
given the the uncontested observations that endocrine contaminants are ubiquitous-indeed that as far as science can tell every baby alive on the planet today has matured in a womb containing measurable quantities of endocrine disrupters-
and given that at least in some places in the world those background levels of contamination are within the ranges in which effects are seen in the laboratory and in people.
given all that, what signals
should we look for in human populations?
We could have stopped before this. We knew that
going on would be controversial. But as we thought about the
implications of these basic findings and their potential ramifications,
we concluded that the only responsible course was to go on and
find out what science was able, and not able to say, given the
current evidence. We knew the public would want to know.
We believe they have the right to know.
If you have read this section, you will find it replete
with all sorts of cautionary noises, with many comments to the
effect that data on one issue or another are as yet inadequate
to reach a judgement. In sum, however, the weight of the evidence
says we have a problem. At the same time, the magnitude and gravity
of that problem is still unclear.
That is not what you would conclude from reading
the parodies that are being issued as press releases and supposedly
informed commentary about the book.
All that I can conclude is that some of these commentators
haven't read the book or they are willfully misrepresenting its
contents. I suspect the latter. Let me give you one example.
Last week, someone from the Competitive Enterprise
Institute published a column in the Seattle Times. She claimed
we advocated a ban on chlorine. We do not. We state this explicitly
in the book. Indeed, at this point the book doesn't advocate
a ban on anything. She then went on to criticize us for depriving
people of clean drinking water. This is in fact one of the reasons,
in the book, why we said that a ban on chlorine would be inappropriate.
Then she quoted an expert on sperm count trends as having said
of our book "They are misrepresenting our data." Given
that this particular expert had gone over the relevant sections
of the book with us word-by-word, and that he had agreed with
the way we represented his work, we knew this couldn't be true,
so we asked him about it. He said that the quote was taken out
of context from a press release that had nothing to do with our
Another vocal critic, the head of an organization
named the American Council for Science and Health, has used similar
tactics. Some of her materials are so whacky they are veritable
self-parodies. She lambasts us with soundbites about innuendo
and hypothesis, ignores what is really in the book, and then constructs
a critique of innuendo and exaggeration and lame literary comment.
I would suggest that if any of you are funding the efforts of
the American Council, you ask for your money back. Their arguments
haven't changed for 15 years even though the issues and the science
have advanced considerably.
Perhaps these are clever tactics in a world in which
factoid is more telling than fact. But frankly, it's not the
way we will come to grips with this issue, which I believe we
The part of the book that has attracted the most
attention has been about human sperm count.
Does the science currently available give us definitive
answer about human sperm count? No. Do the about to be released
US studies mentioned in the New York Times yesterday negate the
previous work and settle the issue? No.
Let me tell you where we stand on this scientific
and medical controversy, and let me begin with some background.
When my coauthor Theo Colborn and I organized the first Wingspread
Conference, we were unaware of the work then underway in Europe
on human sperm count declines and its links to rising incidence
of testicular cancer, undescended testicles and a genital birth
defect in boys called hypospadias. That work had not then been
At the Wingspread Conference, however, we did hear
repeated reports of ways that endocrine disruption had reduced
sperm counts in laboratory animals and also reduced it in specific
cases of human contamination. One of the questions identified
as a priority at the meeting was whether there were any broad
surveys indicating general trends in human sperm count. If the
hypothesis was true, that widespread exposure to endocrine disruption
was creating human risks, then one would expect to see some indications
in human sperm count and human sperm quality.
The Carlson and Skakkebaek paper then burst on the
scene. Not only did it suggest declines, but the mechanism proposed
independently by the authors was based upon hormone disruption
during fetal development.
As always happens in good science, this result was
challenged on several grounds. Subsequent studies have been coming
out that have been able to avoid some of the problems that weakened
the firmness of the conclusions of the first study. Some of these
new studies have shown no decline in specific areas. Others,
from other areas, have shown even larger declines than was suggested
originally. The papers out of Columbia University suggest there
has been no decline in three other areas.
Frankly, this doesn't surprise me. Nothing
is so simple in human life that it would produce a uniform pattern
worldwide. What is emerging now is a more realistic assessment
of the geography of sperm count change. New science will help
us understand the geographic patterns and hopefully work to avoid
whatever exposure lies at their root. The Columbia University
studies don't negate the Paris, London and Belgium studies,
nor even the original Carlson and Skakkebaek work. They tell
us that in three places in the United States sperm counts do not
appear to have changed. They also raise some additional questions
that are sure to create challenges, because they show big differences
among regions in the United States. Why? Given the melting pot
that is this country, how could those differences be if there
hadn't been changes somewhere, sometime.
I should point out also that even as these studies
on humans have been emerging, science has made progress on the
mechanistic ways that endocrine disrupters do affect sperm count.
In an important paper published in Environmental Health Perspectives
this December, two eminent medical researchers showed that two
common contaminants, one an octylphenol, another a phthalate,
reduce the sperm counts of rats exposed in utero through exactly
the causal pathway that has been proposed.
The sperm count story is not going to go away.
In fact, if I have one central message for you, the story about
endocrine disruption is not going to evaporate. Too much
is underway. Too many scientific labs are hard at work on different
pieces. Too many scientific results are heading toward publication.
Too many people have begun to ask questions about what this may
Here's what you can expect:
At the same time, it's not the end of the world. Serious science can help us steer this course. But it can't be industry science, frankly, because the public won't trust it.
If you want to maintain or restore your corporation's public image, pull the plug on disinformation. Play it straight.
One of the most important sentences in the book is where we observe that trends are not destiny. The sort of silent spring anticipated by Rachel Carson did not happen because society faced the challenge, looked at the implications, and found solutions. We can do that here.