Air Date: Week of October 20, 1995
Host Steve Curwood queries guest expert Lisa Lefferts, science editor of the publication The Green Guide in Washington, D.C.on practical ways consumers can avoid contact with chemical compounds suspected of disrupting the bodies hormone system.
CURWOOD: Every time we hear about another factor of modern life that could be a hazard to our health, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and confused. What action does it make sense to take? For example, ultraviolet radiation from sunlight can cause skin cancer, and yet we don't want to spend our whole lives indoors. The science about hormone disruption is still sketchy, yet the dangers seem considerable. So we decided to get some advice about what personal steps would be prudent and practical for us to take to reduce our risk. To get this help, we turn now to Lisa Lefferts, who was the science editor for the Green Guide in Washington, DC. Now, first, Lisa, I want to ask you: how much of a risk do you think hormone-altering chemicals pose to people?
LEFFERTS: Well we know that people are exposed to hormone-altering chemicals, but we don't yet know what the risk or what impact that exposure may be having. It's hypothesized that it may have something to do with the increased rates of breast cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, the decline in sperm counts, the increase in endometriosis, and a number of other diseases and conditions. But we really don't know for sure. We do know that children and the developing embryo and the fetus are at greatest risk from these exposures. But while we're waiting to figure out just what impact there may be from these exposures, I think it makes sense to try to cut back on our exposures where we can.
CURWOOD: If something is indeed terribly wrong with these chemicals, how can we reduce our risk to them?
LEFFERTS: Well, I'd have 4 main recommendations. First is to avoid your exposure to pesticides. Not a bad idea anyway, since a number of pesticides are on the list of hormone-altering chemicals. There's lots of alternatives you can use and also, by buying organically produced and locally-produced food that may help not only reduce your exposure, but the exposure of farm workers and farmers and wildlife to these substances.
CURWOOD: Okay, that's number one.
LEFFERTS: Number one; number two, again this makes sense anyway, is to eat fewer and smaller portions of fatty meat and dairy products, since a number of hormonal contaminants are stored in fat. Number three, and this is a tougher one to implement, a number of chemicals associated with plastic and other synthetic products are on the list. Chemicals that we in the past didn't really think were a problem. So we were exposed to them through a number of pathways, and we're not exactly sure what all those pathways are. But if you can look for alternatives to plastics where you can, one of the most important things you could do here would be to avoid allowing plastic to contact fatty food, especially hot fatty food. So for example, when you microwave food, if you could heat it up in glass or ceramic cookware rather than using an old yogurt tub or margarine tub, that would be a lot better.
CURWOOD: Okay, and the fourth bit of advice for us?
LEFFERTS: Well, I think this is the most important. Since many exposures are out of our control, I think it's important that we start asking questions from industry and government. For example, there was a recent study that found that about 7 or 8 out of every 10 cans tested leached a hormone-altering chemical into the food. Well, now that we know that, how about if industry starts using those cans that don't leach that chemical?
CURWOOD: Well, should we be alarmed?
LEFFERTS: It is alarming that we're being exposed to potentially hormone-altering chemicals. Does that mean that I am erasing every bit of plastic from my life? No, I can't. Maybe in 10 years we'll find out that these substances weren't as bad as we thought, and that would be great, but as least we would have saved ourselves from being guinea pigs for those 10 years if we can find ways to avoid those chemicals. So I think it's important to call Campbells or Progresso and ask them to start using the cans that don't leach bisphenal-a, which is this hormone-altering chemical. Or to contact the makers of toys and teething rings and ask them to test their products for these types of effects.
CURWOOD: Thank you very much. Lisa Lefferts is science editor for the Green Guide. She joined us from Washington. Thank you.
LEFFERTS: Thank you.
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