On the 30th September 2016, PhD student Anais Kahve attended a meeting held at the Royal Society of Chemistry, London, to discuss the recent consensus statement on endocrine disrupting chemicals as outlined by the European Commission’s published criteria (June 2016).
The meeting was well-attended by toxicologists from all areas of industry and academia to share and discuss the challenges in definitions, perceptions and communication of chemical risks, with a focus on endocrine disruptors. Talks were given by Prof. Andreas Kortenkamp, Prof. Lynn Frewer and Prof. Sherri Roush, and the issues presented were discussed as a collective.
The endocrine system is responsible for producing and secreting hormones essential for normal body function, e.g. insulin from the pancreas and progesterone from the ovaries and adrenal glands. The disruption of the production and secretion of these hormones can have dramatic consequences particularly to foetal development. Therefore, the need to have clear definitions on what endocrine disruptors are and how their presence can be measured in the environment is of great importance. In toxicology, risk assessments are conducted using experimental data to determine the safety of chemical compounds. Traditionally, risk assessments take into consideration the inherent hazard potential (potency) of the chemical, the duration of exposure and the route of exposure of the chemical to humans and the environment.
The European Commission (EC) has stated that companies that produce and sell chemical compounds do not need to take potency into consideration when conducting risk assessments. Many scientists, including myself, do not agree with what has been decided as this leaves the possibility for humans to be exposed to severely potent chemicals even if exposure is for a very short amount of time and in small doses. This can prove fatal to a developing foetus especially as some chemical compounds can cause adverse biological effects even after only being exposed to a single dose. I therefore believe that both potency and exposure should be taken into consideration when conducting risk assessments.
The perception of chemicals to the general public was also discussed, especially the misconceptions that they have regarding the safety of “naturally occurring compounds”. For example, what needs to be communicated to the general public is that many naturally occurring compounds are more toxic than synthetic compounds (in fact the deadliest toxins are naturally occurring). Food manufacturers are worsening this misconception by adding slogans onto food packaging, such as “contains only natural compounds”. This needs rectifying; however a method of doing so needs to be determined.
I thoroughly enjoyed the meeting as I was able to hear about current problems that exist in the realms of toxicology in the context of human health. The meeting successfully highlighted the difficulties that regulators face in order to ensure the safeguarding of human health, together with the difficulties involved in changing public perceptions on the dangers of naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals.