A Health & Environment retrospective: concerns that talking about causes of cancer can cause cancer; the difficulties of defining “endocrine disruptor”; shedding light on the obesogen hypothesis; and more.

August 14, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Posted in Feature Articles | Leave a comment
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After 5 years and 60 editions of Health & Environment, we look back at our most popular articles.

Does discussion of environmental causes of cancer cause cancer? There is no obvious reason why the 2010 US President’s Cancer Panel examination of chemicals as potential, under-discussed causes of cancer should have caused so much controversy. The report was hardly unheralded while the recommendations were in line with much existing cancer prevention strategy. The conclusion that one is forced to, is critics of the report must believe that discussing environmental causes of cancer undermines cancer prevention strategy: in other words, that talk about environmental causes of cancer causes cancer. (July 2012)

False alarms or missed hazards: how should regulators define “endocrine disruptor”? The trade-offs entailed in how we define, for regulatory purposes, a chemical as an endocrine disruptor should make us very cautious about conflating the purpose of a regulatory definition of EDC with the purpose of a scientifically correct definition of EDC, and may even show us that the process of defining EDC is a democratic matter which cannot be decided by expert committees alone. (November 2012)

Even though BPA is a weak oestrogen, there is a mechanism by which low levels of BPA could have a powerful health effect. It is often argued that BPA is too weak a hormone to have an effect on cell function. Here, we sketch out a mechanism by which BPA could potentially have a strong effect via an indirect pathway rather than a direct effect on the part of the cell nucleus which responds to oestrogen. (July 2009)

Diagram showing how BPA can indirectly influence cell proliferation

How BPA can influence cell proliferation via a non-nuclear pathway

Thresholds of Toxicological Concern: Evaluating an Initiative to Reduce Animal Testing. One rationale for reducing the burden of chemical toxicity testing is the application of thresholds of toxicological concern (TTCs), a pragmatic, probabilistic approach to risk assessment of substances for which toxicity data are unavailable. It holds that if a substance is unlikely enough to pose a risk to health, then toxicological testing of the substance is not required. (January 2012)

The Obesogen Hypothesis. Energy imbalance is the immediate cause of obesity, a combination of excess dietary calories and a lack of physical activity. However, the full set of reasons as to control over energy balance can be lost is complex – and it is now being hypothesised that chemical pollutants have a role to play. (March 2011)

Shifting the curve: how small changes in individuals have large effects in populations. “Shifting the Curve,” a video narrated by Dr. Bruce Lanphear of Simon Fraser University, shows graphically how small effects – like an increase in the number of individual children with ADHD-related behaviors – result in large increases in the prevalence of ADHD in the overall population. (October 2012)

Assessing Risk Posed by Chemicals in Mixtures. Current practice in risk assessment, although changing, is more-or-less grounded in the 1970s, when pollution from industrial smokestacks and waste outlets was seen as the primary source of risk. It is now recognised that people are exposed to a wide variety of chemicals from many sources, not just industrial pollution. Rather than anticipating the risk to health and the environment posed by a specific waste outflow, the problem has become one of understanding and managing the risk that multiple, everyday exposures may pose to health. (July 2011)

PFCs: A case study in favour of the precautionary principle. PFCs are an example of how production and marketing of a substance can outpace scientific research into its safety and placing regulatory restrictions on its use. In the case of PFCs, this has resulted in 3 generations of people being exposed to an unknown hazard while a complex consensus, based on weak data and economic interests, develops around restricting their use. (December 2011)

Triclosan or soap and water? Despite its widespread use, only a relatively small amount of research into the potential health effects of triclosan has been published. Much of the evidence for potential harm from triclosan comes from in vivo amphibian and fish studies and in vitro mammalian studies. (March 2013)

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