The Newspaper of Record broke new ground last Sunday. No, I’m not referring to the nearly life-sized picture of Michael Jackson emblazoned above the fold; that was Friday. I mean Sunday’s astonishingly frank and accurate essay about endocrine disruptors—synthetic chemicals that behave like artificial hormones, now widespread in the environment and causing serious impacts on the health of wildlife and humans.
Naturally the piece didn’t appear in Tuesday’s Science Times. The last thing I read about endocrine disruptors there was a squib reiterating the chemical industry’s mantra that Dose Makes the Poison and assuring readers that the amounts of endocrine-disrupting bisphenol-A leaching from plastic water bottles is nothing to worry about. Yes, that would be the very same bisphenol-A now banned from use in baby products in Canada and the European Union.
No, the New York Times’ piece about endocrine disruptors appeared on the Op-Ed page. Nicholas Kristof wrote it, and he didn’t hold back.
Kristof listed a stunning array of the known effects of these chemicals, including an epidemic of stunted male genitals, undescended testicles, deformed penises, lowered sperm counts, endometriosis, obesity, cancer, and abnormal brain development, in wildlife species as well as in humans, in many, many parts of the world.
You can’t fit a lot of information into a standard sized newspaper column, so Kristof left out a few things you might want to know. For instance, he didn’t have room for the key fact that minute – truly infinitesimal—amounts of these chemicals have been shown to cause permanent adverse effects, particularly in developing fetuses and children. One expert compared it to as little as one drop of gin in 660 train tank cars of tonic. Our bodies respond to our own hormones at those trace levels, after all.
What else didn’t Kristof have room to say? Well, other than saying that these synthetic industrial chemicals are widely used in agriculture, industry, and consumer products, he didn’t elaborate on what consumer products actually contain these scary chemicals.
Virtually all of them, it turns out, including the laptop I’m typing this on and the vinyl hose I’m going to use to refill my birdbath when I’m done. He also didn’t explain how hormone-scrambling chemicals are leaping from my laptop and garden hose into the bodies of developing fetuses and you and me and frogs and alligators.
Nor did he give us anything to go on. What can we do? How can we protect the environment and ourselves?
Well, we need the government to step in here, of course, but while we’re waiting—and phoning our representatives—there’s quite a lot we can do. I’ll post more on this tomorrow. Time to close the laptop and fill the birdbath. And—here’s a hint—wash my hands vigorously with soap and water when I’m done.