Fumento published a broad-side attack on the integrity of
endocrine disruption science, scientists and Our Stolen Future
in the 19 November 1999 issue of Forbes Magazine, entitled
is an artfully constructed piece, but one that rests squarely
upon misrepresentation, distortion and innuendo from the very
begins by quoting from a New York Times story about the EPA
decision to undertake a massive "endocrine disruptor
action," it declared, "is in response to a growing body
of research indicating that man-made industrial chemicals
and pesticides may commit a kind of molecular sabotage
within the body's regulatory apparatus, possibly causing
birth defects, low sperm counts, breast cancer, mental
impairment and a range of other ailments."
Fumento goes on:
scary -- and it is scary, to the chemical industry,
at least. To do a thorough testing of a suspect chemical
costs an average $1.5 million. If the EPA does not call
off the hunt at a preliminary stage, somebody has to
cough up $23 billion to test just the most suspicious
24% of the lot.
are everyday chemicals hidden causes of birth defects,
mental impairment and other bad things? It turns out
that there is no growing body of research to that effect."
writes this just as the the US National Academy of Sciences
was in the final stages of developing its massive
report on "hormonally active agents in the environment,
in which the Academy reviewed just the body of research that
Fumento says blatantly does not exist. The review recommended
a vigorous research program to answer legitimate questions
about potential human health effects, effects identified by
a growing, indeed quite large body of literature from animal
experiments, and it recommended that a screening program be
initiated similar to that undertaken by EPA. It also observed
that at this stage of the report, scientific certainty was
not possible because the key studies had not been done.
report, incidentally, was followed in June 2000 by an even
from the Royal Society of London (Britain's counterpart to
the NAS), which also acknowledged uncertainty but judged that
the risks were sufficiently large and plausible to warrant
immediate steps to reduce exposures, particularly for pregnant
how did Fumento justify that statement and his subsequent
arguments? He ignored what is in fact "a
growing body of evidence" and instead focused on
a single study by John McLachlan's laboratory that suggested
extremely high levels of synergistic interaction among certain
pesticides. Because that one study was withdrawn,
Fumento argues, the whole issue of endocrine disruption falls
argument fails for two reasons.
been demonstrated before this result, and again since
the withdrawal, with the effects being at least as dramatic
as McLachlan's and with many more chemicals than the few
used by McLachlan.
the phenomenon of endocrine disruption does not rest upon
synergy. It poses public health risks even without synergy,
because of the extremely low
level at which compounds can have disruptive impacts
on development. Indeed we wrote Our Stolen Future
long before McLachlan had planned the experiments, much
less carried them out and published them.
piece continues with error after error and exaggeration. For
example, he writes:
are two things we do know. First, the suspected endocrine
modulators that environmentalists want banned are, in
effect, utterly swamped by other modulators not on their
hit list--namely, natural modulators in plants we eat,
hormones from our own bodies, synthetic hormones in contraceptives
and postmenopausal hormone replacement pills."
statement reveals either an embarrassing ignorance about relevant
endocrinology or a willful distortion of it. Early in the
debate over endocrine disruption, industry-linked scientists
like Steven Safe had done calculations showing that on the
basis of simple calculations of "total estrogenicity,"
plant phytoestrogens were far more abundant in ingested food
than estrogenic contaminants.
the time that Fumento wrote this argument, however, that simplistic
argument had been discredited by several additional factors.
Four of the most important are:
if more abundant initially in food, phytoestrogens are degraded
by digestion and metabolism far more readily than synthetic
contaminants with which humans have no evolutionary history.
Synthetic contaminants are more likely to make it past the
body's natural chemical defense system.
do not bioaccumulate in the body. The synthetic contaminants
that do reach contamination levels in the womb and in body
fat far greater than those reached by phytoestrogens.
and synthetic estrogens are only one small piece of the
endocrine disruption puzzle. Fumento leaves out the fact
that there are synthetic disruptors of many
other hormone systems, without known plant analogues.
is just one form of exposure.
mention of postmenopausal hormone replacement pills is another
whopper, or willful distraction. The concern of scientists
studying endocrine disruption is focused on fetal contamination
and the impacts it may have on development throughout life,
not on hormonal manipulations late in life. A central point
is that the developing fetus is far more sensitive than an
particularly revealing error in Fumento's commentary
is in his discussion of Fred
vom Saal's work on bisphenol A. Fumento refers to industry-funded
studies that attempted, but failed, to replicate vom Saal's
research, and argues that this proves vom Saal's results are
wrong. What he fails to mention is that the industry funded
research not only couldn't replicate vom Saal's studies, their
"positive control" failed also. Positive controls
are used in toxicological experiments to demonstrate that
the experimental procedure works. It is done by exposing one
set of animals in the experiment, the "positive controls"
to a compound known to cause an effect, and then showing that
that effect indeed was induced. Industry's failure to replicate
vom Saal's work tells more about their own incompetence. And
indeed, now several independent laboratories have repeated
vom Saal's experiments successfully.