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A Clash of Old and New Scientific Concepts in Toxicity, with Important Implications for Public Health

J. P. Myers
R. Thomas Zoeller, University of Massachusetts - Amherst
F. S. vom Saal

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Reproduced with permission from Environmental Health Perspective

Abstract

Background A core assumption of current toxicologic procedures used to establish health standards for chemical exposures is that testing the safety of chemicals at high doses can be used to predict the effects of low-dose exposures, such as those common in the general population. This assumption is based on the precept that “the dose makes the poison”: higher doses will cause greater effects. Objectives We challenge the validity of assuming that high-dose testing can be used to predict low-dose effects for contaminants that behave like hormones. We review data from endocrinology and toxicology that falsify this assumption and summarize current mechanistic understanding of how low doses can lead to effects unpredictable from high-dose experiments. Discussion Falsification of this assumption raises profound issues for regulatory toxicology. Many exposure standards are based on this assumption. Rejecting the assumption will require that these standards be reevaluated and that procedures employed to set health standards be changed. The consequences of these changes may be significant for public health because of the range of health conditions now plausibly linked to exposure to endocrine-disrupting contaminants. Conclusions We recommend that procedures to establish acceptable exposure levels for endocrine-disrupting compounds incorporate the inability for high-dose tests to predict low-dose results. Setting acceptable levels of exposure must include testing for health consequences at prevalent levels of human exposure, not extrapolations from the effects observed in high-dose experiments. Scientists trained in endocrinology must be engaged systematically in standard setting for endocrine-disrupting compounds.

Suggested Citation

J. P. Myers, R. Thomas Zoeller, and F. S. vom Saal. "A Clash of Old and New Scientific Concepts in Toxicity, with Important Implications for Public Health" Environmental Health Perspectives 117 (2009): 1033-1041.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/rthomas_zoeller/3

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