From Dr Michael Warhurst
Sir: The Government's call for more research but no action in response to this week's report on the health implications of oestrogenic chemicals is complacent and short term. Some of these chemicals have been known to be oestrogenic since 1938 and many, such as the alkylphenolic compounds, have already been banned in other countries, while some companies in the UK have stopped using plastics containing phthalates.
The quotation attributed to Professor Lewis, the Director of the Institute for Environment and Health at Leicester University - that banning in the absence of definitive evidence was a mistake because "if you've guessed badly you have left behind the chemicals doing the damage" - makes little sense when the Government's decision is to ban nothing - so leaving all the oestrogenic chemicals in the environment - is a bigger mistake than possibly leaving a few.
The persistent complaint from the chemical industry whenever one of their products is shown to be dangerous (CFCs, DDT, etc), is that "there is no alternative"; but within a few years alternatives are in place.
Animal and cell culture toxicity tests are what companies use to persuade the Government that a new chemical is safe, but now the Government ignores evidence from these same tests that existing chemicals are dangerous. The Government wants proof of human damage by the oestrogenic compounds, but there are only two ways this can be obtained:
i) Small scale human experiments, where pregnant women are fed controlled amounts of the chemical(s) in question, and their children are then studied for damage over the next 20 years or so - a totally unethical experiment.
ii) Large scale human experiments, where the population is exposed to the suspect chemical(s), and epidemiological methods are used to evaluate any damaging effects on the population.
This week's events demonstrate that the Government intends to continue experiment (ii), which has already been going for 50 years. It is ignoring its own commitment to the precautionary principle, and endangering the health of the population and the environment.
Department of Civil and
University of Edinburgh