Contaminated Population, Meet Contaminated Science

We’re all familiar with the human and ecological tragedy that
follows massive industrial accidents — Chernobyl, the Exxon oil
spill in Alaska, and the recent benzene spill into the Songhua
River in China all come to mind. Less understood, however, are the
effects of a lifetime of low-level exposure to the cocktail of
endocrine disruptors — man-made chemicals that mimic hormones in
the body — that permeates every aspect of modern life. A study
prompted by a recent discovery of

deep-seated health problems in a First Nation in Canada
published in October in the journal

Environmental Health Perspectives
, may help change that.
The study looks at the sex ratio (the proportion of male to female
births in a given population) in the Aamjiwnaang First Nation from
1984 through 2003. Located in Canada just north of Michigan, the
reserve has been surrounded for the past fifty years by Canada’s
largest concentration of petrochemical manufacturing plants. The
area is known locally as ‘Chemical Valley.’

The results of the study are staggering: from 1984 to 1993, the
birth ratio on the reserve was average for any population, but
starting in 1994, the ratio went into a free fall. The numbers now
stand at two boys girls for every one girl
boy, a large red flag snapping in the wind. If history is any
guide, however, the flag won’t be big enough for industry
representatives and scientists. As
Gay Daly
reports in On Earth
, well-funded industry
representatives are highly resistant to the idea that their actions
could have caused health problems. Though the Aamjiwnaang study did
not determine a direct causal relationship between pollution and
health maladies (how endocrine disruptors actually work is not yet
fully understood), it and other studies (see links below) indicate
a correlation too strong to be ignored.

Indeed, scientists face an uphill battle when trying to research
the detrimental effects wrought by endocrine disruptors, Daly
reports. Industry lobbyists stand in the way of meaningful
legislation, and industry scientists themselves have conducted many
of the studies on endocrine disruptors. Those studies stand at
complete odds with those done by scientists not aligned with
industry. Nevertheless, as Daly reports, the study of endocrine
disruptors is gaining speed, thanks in large part to the work of
Theo Colborn. Co-author of Our Stolen Future, a layman’s
guide to endocrine disruptors, Colborn and her colleagues have
amassed a database of articles to make existing research available
on a topic that doesn’t manage to garner the same headlines as
other health threats. As Colborn points out, ‘If we can’t
reproduce, whether we get cancer or not will be a moot point.’

Go there >>

Canadian Natives Alarmed By a Gender Ratio Out of Whack

Go there too >>
Sex Ratio in a First Nation Community

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