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=======================Electronic Edition========================
.                                                               .
.           RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY #486           .
.                        March 21, 1996                         .
.                          HEADLINES:                           .
.                   OUR STOLEN FUTURE--PART 1                   .
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The NEW YORK TIMES this week declared war on the theory and
evidence that synthetic chemicals, such as dioxin, interfere with
hormones, causing harm in wildlife and humans--a story we have
been following since 1991.[1]  Under a banner headline in
Tuesday's Science Times section,[2] TIMES writer Gina Kolata
reviewed the new book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John
based on a review of literally thousands of scientific studies
going back 60 years.[3]  The main idea in the book is that
synthetic (human-created) chemicals may be interfering with the
hormones that control and regulate growth, health and behavior in
wildlife and humans, leading to birth defects, problems of sexual
development, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and even mental
problems like attention deficit disorder, reduced IQ, and violent
behavior. Both Colborn and Myers hold Ph.D. degrees in zoology
and are fully-qualified scientists, yet Ms. Kolata's review
begins this way:

"In a warning supported by allies who include Robert Redford and
Vice President Al Gore, some environmentalists are asserting that
humans and wildlife are facing a new and serious threat from
synthetic chemicals."

Thus in her opening paragraph, Ms. Kolata managed to trivialize
the issue and discredit the authors by giving the impression that
(a) "some environmentalists" are the source of the data; (b)
perhaps some other environmentalists don't buy it; (c) the book's
main supporters are politicians and movie actors; (d) scientists
aren't in the picture.

Not until the fourth paragraph do we learn that Theo Colborn is
herself a scientist, but by that time we've already been told
that the message of OUR STOLEN FUTURE is "controversial," and
that "the factual basis of the book's alarms... have been refuted
by careful studies," and that co-author Pete Myers heads "an
environmental group" (which is Ms. Kolata's description of the W.
Alton Jones Foundation in Charlottesville, Va.).  Ms. Kolata
never does get around to telling her readers that Dr. Myers is a
fully-credentialed scientist.  Nor does she describe or name a
single "careful study" that refutes any of the premises of OUR

Ms. Kolata's review plunges downhill from there.  It is not until
the sixth paragraph that we learn, "besides Mr. Gore's support,
OUR STOLEN FUTURE has been endorsed by several biologists and
toxicologists, who say the book deserves to be heeded."  Even
then Ms. Kolata never names or quotes a single biologist or
toxicologist who supports OUR STOLEN FUTURE.  Instead, she
devotes long paragraphs to four scientists who, she says, are
critical of the theory that synthetic chemicals can disrupt
hormones and thus cause harm to wildlife and humans.

However, even in quoting these contrarian scientists, Ms. Kolata
deceives and misleads her readers by selectively distorting their

For example, she quotes Dr. Michael Gallo of Rutgers University
saying that OUR STOLEN FUTURE is "hypothesis masked as fact." Yet
on May 15, 1990, the NEW YORK TIMES itself quoted Dr. Gallo to
quite different effect.[4]  Here is the context: The writer of
that 1990 story (TIMES staffer Jon R. Luoma) said, "Research now
appears to have established that [dioxins] can affect animals and
humans by mimicking steroid hormones, which are themselves
extremely potent chemicals."

Luoma concluded, in that 1990 TIMES story, that the symptoms of
dioxin exposure "range from suppression of the immune system to
striking disruptions in cell growth and differentiation,
particularly in fetal development."  This is precisely the

Then Luoma quoted Dr. Michael Gallo, Rutgers University, saying
TCDD [dioxin] "is as potent as any hormone" and "it doesn't take
much hormone, or dioxin, to have a tremendous effect."  And Dr.
Gallo said, "From a toxicological point of view, nothing we've
learned has caused us to back away from the idea that these
[dioxins] are very, very potent chemicals."  Does Gina Kolata not
read the NEW YORK TIMES?

In her zeal to undermine the credibility of OUR STOLEN FUTURE,
Ms. Kolata then quotes Dr. Stephen Safe, of Texas A&M University
pooh-poohing Colborn and Myers's evidence that synthetic
chemicals interfere with hormones in humans.

But back in May, 1990, the TIMES quoted Stephen Safe to quite
different effect.  Here is the context:

Jon Luoma's May 15, 1990, TIMES story pointed out that animal
studies have shown that dioxin has a "breathtaking toxicity" and
in laboratory animals dioxin causes a broad spectrum of toxic
responses.  "With laboratory animals, it seemed as if dioxin
caused just about any effect you can think of," Steven Safe, a
professor of toxicology at Texas A&M University, said.  "You name
it and [dioxin] did it, and at extraordinarily low doses," he
said.  "New research has not reversed these findings, it has
merely helped explain them," Dr. Safe said. Luoma then went on to
point out that, "...[S]tudies of humans exposed accidentally to
TCDD [dioxin] have shown unusually high levels of enzymes that
are typically induced by steroid hormones, a strong clue that a
hormone-like response is triggered in humans exposed to dioxin as
well."  This is precisely what OUR STOLEN FUTURE is about, except
that now dioxin is not the only known culprit: 50 additional
synthetic chemicals have been shown to have the power to disrupt
hormones.  Does Gina Kolata not read the NEW YORK TIMES?

In her zeal to discredit OUR STOLEN FUTURE, Ms. Kolata sets up
Theo Colborn, then knocks her down by quoting another scientist
who apparently dismisses Colborn's argument that synthetic
chemicals mimic hormones and affect the brain.  Watch how this
plays out to discredit Colborn:

Ms. Kolata writes: "Asked for the strongest, most convincing
evidence that endocrine disruptors are affecting humans, Dr.
Colborn said it was studies indicating that these chemicals are
causing hyperactivity in children. 'The evidence is just building
up,' she said, citing animal studies.

"She added that she also worried that endocrine-disrupting
chemicals were causing a decline in intelligence and said that
animal studies showed that such chemicals could weaken short-term
memory in rodents.

"'If you have problems with short-term memory, you have problems
with intelligence,' she said. 'Remember, the thyroid fits in
here,' she said. 'There are thyroid problems in practically every
fish in the Great Lakes. And thyroidologists say that it takes
just the slightest shift during critical times in the development
of the brain and you will have behavioral problems and
intelligence problems.'

"But Dr. Maria I. New, chief of pediatric endocrinology at New
York Hospital-Cornell University Medical Center in New York, said
there was no evidence that learning disabilities, violence or a
drop in I.Q. had anything to do with prenatal exposure to
estrogens or endocrine-disrupting chemicals."

NO EVIDENCE, says Dr. Maria I. New.  Sounds like an open and shut
case, doesn't it?  Colborn must be wrong: there must be no
evidence that these hormones can affect the brain.

But wait.  Back on May 3, 1994, TIMES writer Natalie Angier
quoted the same Dr. Maria I. New saying that she was conducting
research to determine whether the amount of androgen (male sex
hormone) in a female fetus affected a woman's neurological
[nervous system] development. "There are definitely effects of
androgens on the brain," Dr. New said.[5]  Does Gina Kolata not
read the NEW YORK TIMES?

In her zeal to discredit OUR STOLEN FUTURE, Ms. Kolata goes to
absurd extremes.  She paraphrases Pete Myers saying "the evidence
was sufficient to press for at least a worldwide ban on DDT and
further restrictions on PCBs" --DDT and PCBs being two of the
best-documented and most harmful hormone-disrupting chemicals.
But Ms. Kolata won't let Dr. Myers hold even this modest
position.  She insists that "[S]everal leading scientists view
such position as premature at best." Premature to advocate a
global ban on DDT?  The U.S. banned DDT 25 years ago, in 1971.
Premature to restrict PCBs?  The U.S. severely restricted the use
of PCBs 20 years ago, in 1976.  Ms. Kolata writes that these
"leading scientists" say that the case for ridding the world of
DDT and PCBs "seems fueled more by hyperbole than facts and that
many of the claims of demonstrable harm, when examined, turn out
to be a house of cards."

Does Ms. Kolata not read the NEW YORK TIMES? Does she not even
read stories she herself has published previously in the TIMES?
On August 2, 1988, Ms. Kolata reported in the TIMES that an
industrial accident in Taiwan in 1979 exposed a group of people
to PCBs and those exposures "have caused an epidemic of birth
defects."[6]  Is it not simple common sense to advocate
restrictions on a chemical that can cause an epidemic of birth
defects in humans?

Gina Kolata's review of OUR STOLEN FUTURE is unfair, biased,
deceptive, and distorted, clearly aimed at discrediting all of
the book's ideas, even its most unremarkable, mainstream ideas.
It reminds me of the crude hatchet jobs done on Rachel Carson's
SILENT SPRING back in 1962. Ms. Kolata's review raises the
obvious question, who in the chemical industry "got to" Ms.
Kolata and how did they do it?

But the more important question is, why did the editors at the
TIMES assign such a lightweight to review such an important book?
OUR STOLEN FUTURE is a major work with a profoundly important
message.  Anyone who reads the NEW YORK TIMES knows that the
issues raised in this book have been described and discussed at
serious scientific meetings, and in the columns of the TIMES
itself, for some years now.[7]  To allow a bigoted reviewer to
suggest that these ideas have no basis in fact and have little or
no support in the scientific community is a desecration of the
journalistic values that the TIMES is committed to upholding. Mr.
Kolata's review is unfair, false, distorted, biased, and
misleading. Everyone ---I mean EVERYONE --should read this book,
and everyone should give a copy to their family doctor.  OUR
STOLEN FUTURE is well written and easily understood.  It deserves
a fair reading --which Gina Kolata did not have the intellectual
or moral capacity to give it.  The TIMES can do better.  Much
                                                --Peter Montague
[1] See REHW #263, #264, #322, #323, #343, #364, #365, #372,
#377, #432, #438, #446, #447, #448.

[2] Gina Kolata, "Chemicals That Mimic Hormones Stir Alarm and
Debate," NEW YORK TIMES March 19, 1995, pg. C1. And: Gina Kolata,
"Sperm Counts: Some Experts See a Fall, Others See Poor Data,"
NEW YORK TIMES March 19, 1995, pg. C1.

[3] Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers, OUR
STOLEN FUTURE (N.Y.: Dutton, 1996).

[4] Jon R. Luoma, "Scientists Are Unlocking Secrets of Dioxin's
Devastating Power," NEW YORK TIMES May 15, 1990, pg. C4.

[5] Natalie Angier, "Male Hormone Molds Women, Too, In Mind and
Body," NEW YORK TIMES May 3, 1994, pgs. C1, C13.

[6] Gina Kolata, "PCB Exposure Linked to Birth Defects in
Taiwan," NEW YORK TIMES August 2, 1988, page unknown.

[7] See, for example, items cited in footnotes 1 through 6; and
see Jon R. Luoma, "New Effect of Pollutants: Hormone Mayhem," NEW
YORK TIMES March 24, 1992, pg. C1.

Descriptor terms:  endocrine disrupters; dioxin; hormones;
endocrine system; new york times; gina kolata; theo colborn;
dianne dumanoski; john peterson myers; pete myers; book reviews;
journalism; journalistic ethics;

Environmental Research Foundation provides this electronic
version of RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY free of charge
even though it costs our organization considerable time and
money to produce it.  We would like to continue to provide this
service free.  You could help by making a tax-deductible
contribution (anything you can afford, whether $5.00 or
$500.00).  Please send your contribution to: Environmental
Research Foundation, P.O. Box 5036, Annapolis, MD 21403-7036.
                                        --Peter Montague, Editor

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