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Center for Environment Speaker: ‘Common Chemicals Impact Human Health’

04/15/13 by Rebecca Rider

Pete Myers told the audience of nearly 140 people that common chemicals can cause changes to the human genetic structure

Nearly 140 people learned about the harmful effects of common chemicals on the public health April 9 when research scientist Dr. John Peterson Myers spoke at the Center for the Environment building on the Catawba College campus. 

Myers, a scientist active in primary research on the role of endocrine disruption in human health, is founder, CEO and chief scientist of Environmental Health News. He co-authored Our Stolen Future, a 1996 publication about the harmful effects of endocrine disruption compounds (or EDCs) that brought EDCs to global attention and jump-started EDC research. 

Dr. John Wear, founder and executive director of the Center for the Environment, opened the evening by saying, “Some things you hear about affect only some people. This affects everyone. It could even affect your children and grandchildren.”  

First, Myers asked the audience if anyone knew someone who had been affected by cancer, learning disabilities or autism. “Everyone in this room is touched by diseases that science tells us are caused, in part, by endocrine disruption.” EDCs are a looming reality that has been acknowledged by organizations such as the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control, both of which have labeled EDCs as a global threat to public health. 

What is an EDC? EDCs are chemicals foreign to the body that interfere with the endocrine system—the system of the body responsible for releasing and regulating hormone levels. The endocrine system has multiple roles in daily functioning: It helps induce sleep, controls growth hormones, regulates fertility, stimulates the metabolism and flips key genetic on-and-off switches. Anything that throws the endocrine system off balance can have drastic effects on human health.

Dr. Myers met with students as well as the general public.

“I am going to talk about some scary science,” Myers told attendees. Currently, Myers said, there are 800 commonly used chemicals that are known EDCs, and are linked to a wide array of human diseases and disabilities. Many have the power to make changes to genetic structure that can be passed on to children, or even grandchildren. “Someone could be [experiencing negative health] because of something their grandmother was exposed to,” Myers explained. 

Many of these negative effects can occur when a person is exposed to extremely low concentrations of EDCs – so low that toxicologists don’t test for them. Part of the problem, Myers explained, is that not only are toxicologists not testing low levels, but they are using outdated testing processes and tools. However, thanks to recent research, Myers said, “The science of what is low and what matters is changing.”

Trustee and benefactor Fred Stanback asked Myers about his research.

Myers and his team are attempting to establish new, tiered methods for testing chemicals that will be cost effective, and will, ultimately, involve fewer tests than current methods. They are also trying to guide chemists towards green chemicals and toward finding replacement materials that are safer and more cost effective.  

At the end of the evening, attendees asked Myers some tough questions, including how they could avoid EDCs in their lives. “Everything in moderation,” he said. “Eat low on the food chain. Don’t use pesticides for cosmetic use around the house.” He also suggested avoiding the thermal paper many receipts and airline tickets are made of, because they contain high levels of Bisphenol A, a known endocrine disruption compound. 

However, Myers said, “The underlying message is one of hope.” Now that scientists and health organizations are becoming aware of the risks associated with EDCs, they can work to fix them. “We have the opportunity to prevent diseases that, 20 years ago, people didn’t have a clue were preventable,” Myers said. 

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