One of the chief environmental groups involved in the debate over endocrine disrupters is urging the Environmental Protection Agency to expand its testing program to include several plastic additives.
EPA wants the initial focus to be on pesticides, but the World Wildlife Fund is suggesting that there's enough evidence of problems from bisphenol-A and brominated and fluorinated compounds used in plastics that they should be included.
EPA is developing the first phase of tests for 50-100 chemicals to see if they disrupt the human endocrine system. The program aims to test a controversial theory that some chemicals can make small but important changes in the body's endocrine system, interfering with estrogen, androgen and thyroid hormones.
While membership on the list does not mean a chemical is an endocrine disrupter, it could heighten attention to it and increase deselection pressures. Congress mandated that EPA test pesticides, but WWF thinks EPA has authority to broaden the probe to other chemicals, and it specifically called for the plastic additives.
``There is so much controversy over the other chemicals that you really need to put them very high in your priority list,'' said Rich Liroff, policy director in the wildlife and contaminants fund at the Washington-based WWF. ``We have a lot of studies done in various laboratories indicating that there are endocrine effects.''
WWF has followed the endocrine debate closely, and one of its scientists, Theo Colburn, co-authored a book in the mid-1990s that jump-started much of the debate.
Bisphenol-A is used to make polycarbonate, while brominated compounds are used as flame retardants in plastic. The European Union has banned two brominated compounds starting in 2004.
Liroff said the inclusion of fluorinated compounds refers to perfluorooctanoic acid, a chemical used to make fluoropolymers. EPA announced April 14 that it was giving PFOA an expedited review, separate from the endocrine program, because of health concerns. But that EPA review of PFOA is looking at developmental issues other than endocrine disruption, said officials with the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. Washington-based SPI, which plans to sign an agreement to work with EPA on its review, said studies of PFOA have not shown any endocrine effects.
As for BPA, another industry official said putting it in the EPA program would not add to knowledge about the chemical.
``BPA has already been extensively tested for endocrine effects both in screening and in comprehensive studies,'' said Steve Hentges, executive director of the PC business unit of the American Plastics Council in Arlington, Va.
Officials with the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum declined to comment, but an industry official cautioned against lumping all brominated compounds together.
The official said a scientific review conducted by EPA's children health-testing program recently determined, for example, that decabromodiphenyl ether, a flame retardant in plastics, is not a threat to human health.
Generally speaking, EPA has said most polymers will be exempted from such testing because their molecules are considered too big to react with endocrine systems. Once EPA makes final decisions on how to design the program, the testing process is likely to take several years.