Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers


For summaries of the book's chapters...

The Basics of Our Stolen Future

Our Stolen Future examines the ways that certain synthetic chemicals interfere with hormonal messages involved in the control of growth and development, especially in the fetus.

The developing fetus uses these natural hormonal messages, which come from both from its own hormone system and from its mother, to guide development. They influence virtually all of the growing individual's characteristics, from determining its sex to controlling the numbers of toes and fingers to shaping intricate details of brain structure.

Scientific research accumulating over the last 50 years, and accelerating during the 1990's, has revealed that this hormonal control of development is vulnerable to disruption by synthetic chemicals. Through a variety of mechanisms, hormone-disrupting chemicals (also known as endocrine disrupting chemicals or endocrine disruptors) interfere with the natural messages and alter the course of development, with potential affects on virtually all aspects of bodily function.

Our Stolen Future explores the scientific discovery of endocrine disruption. The investigation begins with wildlife, as it was in animals that the first hints of widespread endocrine disruption appeared. The book then examines a series of experiments examining endocrine disruption of animals in the laboratory which show conclusively that fetal exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals can wreak life-long damage. These experiments also reveal some of the biological processes by which these chemicals have their effects, and that --in contrast to the dynamics of carcinogenicity-- endocrine disruption effects can be caused by exposure to infinitesimally small amounts of contaminant. Moving from animals to people, Our Stolen Future summarizes a series of well-studied examples where people have been affected by endocrine disrupting chemicals, most notably the synthetic hormone dietheylstilbestrol (DES), to which several million women were exposed through misguided medical attempts to manage difficult pregnancies in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. [Research on DES continues; a 1999 summary is available on the web.]

Our Stolen Future then asks a broader, more difficult and more controversial set of questions. Given what is known from wildlife and laboratory studies, and from examples of well-studied human exposure, and given that exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in the real world is widespread at levels comparable to those sufficient to cause animal harm, what effects should health scientists be looking for in people in general? Effects to be expected include declines in fertility and other impacts on the reproductive system of both men and women, impairments in disease resistance, and erosions in intelligence.

The evidence on each of these predictions available through to the book's publication in 1996 is incomplete. As we readily acknowledge in Our Stolen Future, some patterns are consistent with expectations, indeed highly suggestive, but existing epidemiological studies of people are insufficient to establish scientific certainty. The evidence since 1996 has become substantially stronger. You can find an overview of the broad trends in new endocrine disruptor research and many details elsewhere on this website, including recent developments.
In our judgement, while scientific certainty is not yet available, sufficient evidence exists to justify a series of steps: in research, in public policy and in personal safeguards. The book examines each of these themes. Most importantly, we caution that the world-wide exposure to endocrine disruption has thrust everyone into a large-scale, unplanned, unintended experiment with health, the outcome of which may not be known for generations. Given the magnitude of plausible risk, we believe that dramatic measures should be taken to lower exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals as rapidly as possible.




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