Abstract

A number of biological responses and multigenerational effects, mediated through the disruption of endocrine systems, have been observed in biota exposed to relatively low concentrations of environmental contaminants. These types of responses need to be considered within a weight of evidence approach in our risk assessment and risk management frameworks. However, including endocrine responses in an environmental risk assessment introduces a number of uncertainties that must be considered. A risk assessment of nonylphenol and nonylphenol polyethoxylates (NP/NPE) is used as a case study to demonstrate the sources and magnitude of some of the uncertainties associated with using endocrine disruption as an assessment endpoint. Even with this relatively well studied group of substances, there are substantial knowledge gaps which contribute to the overall uncertainties, limiting the interpretation within the risk assessment. The uncertainty of extrapolating from in vitro or biochemical responses to higher levels of organization or across species is not well understood. The endocrine system is very complex and chemicals can interact or interfere with the normal function of endocrine systems in a number of ways (e.g., receptors, hormones) which may or may not result in an adverse responses in the whole organism. Using endocrine responses can lead to different conclusions than traditional endpoints due to a variety of factors, such as differences in relative potencies of chemicals for specific endpoints (e.g., receptor binding versus chronic toxicity). The uncertainties can also be considerably larger and the desirability of using endocrine endpoints should be carefully evaluated. Endocrine disruption is a mode of action and not a functional endpoint and this needs to be considered carefully in the problem formulation stage and the interpretation of the weight of evidence.

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