It also highlights a serious drawback in relying on studies that look for single environmental contaminants, rather than a spectrum of their derivatives, he adds. Chemical studies should be complemented with bioassays that use living cells to detect endocrine disrupters, Vandenberg adds.
Last year, a bioassay of this kind found androgens in 35% of freshwater samples tested, far more than chemical assays would suggest. “What you really want to know is if there’s anything in there that can cause biological activity,” says molecular biologist Gordon Hager, at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, who developed the assay. Yet current environmental monitoring procedures still rely on checking “a list of chemicals, and they only know how to look for one thing at a time”, he says. “It’s a fool’s errand.”