Endocrine disruptors are an important and multifaceted societal issue, with scientific, regulatory, economic, risk management and innovation management debates; debates which feature multiple and divergent opinions and analysis.
A long path from scientific to regulatory definition
The words « endocrine disruptor » (ED) were first mentioned by zoologist Theo Colborn on 28th July 1991 in a scientific gathering in Wingspread (USA). The notion derives from observations on animal species (birds, alligators, molluscs, fish) and their exposure through their environment ; these discussions have been linked to observations on women exposed to Diethylstilbestrol (DES) and their descendants, leading to the progressive emergence of a new environmental and public health issue.
The WHO definition was established in 2002, updated in 2012 and used by the European Union in 2017:
“An endocrine disruptor is an exogenous substance or mixture that alters function(s) of the endocrine system and consequently causes adverse health effects in an intact organism, or its progeny, or (sub) populations.”
The words in this definition reflect the controversies at stake: the WHO does not refer to substances which “interact with” but which “alter” the endocrine system, nor does it refer to “effects” but to “adverse effects”. There are indeed numerous substances, physical agents or even psychological stress factors which interact with the endocrine system without necessarily causing any adverse effect.
When characterizing an endocrine disruptor, both interaction and toxicity should be demonstrated and toxicity should be proved to derive from the interaction.