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Talk with the Expert. Prof. BOVOLIN

Talk with the Expert: an interview with Prof. BOVOLIN from the University of TORINO - ITALY
Thanks Dr. Bovolin for accepting the interview. Why some substances are called Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals – EDCs ? How do they affect our health?
Answer 1: to explain this I usually begin by telling the story of how EDCs were discovered. It the sixties and the seventies something was happening
in several rivers, especially in North America: there was an unusually high percentage of intersex fish.
For instance: male individuals were carring female eggs in their testes. Something was really interfering with the reproductive system of these animals, and later on it was discovered that some substances present in the water conflicted with their hormonal system and disturbed their sexual maturation. So these substances were able to induce some kind of hormonal confusion. Scientists called this phenomenon “Endocrine Disruption”. And because the hormonal system is very similar in humans and fish, it was clear from the beginning that endocrine disruption could occur also in humans, as you will learn in this course.
Since EDCs mimic or block the action of endogenous hormones, you may very well understand why they can contribute to infertility, altered puberty, thyroid problems, obesity, and possibly other conditions. Ms Research-Ann asks Question 2 We have heard about chemicals migrating from packages and coating. But honestly, we are talking about very low doses? Cound these be harmful, even in very low dose ? Answer 2 I’m afraid YES. Our hormonal system uses extremely low doses of hormones, and so very logically very low doses of EDCs can interfere with it. Ann you are a researcher, so I will spend a few more words on this. Number 1. EDs do not follow classical toxicological dose-response laws typical of most drugs, poisons and teratogens.
This makes research difficult. Number 2, in the real world we are exposed not to a single but to a mixture of EDs at the same time, and these mixes often turn out to be more dangerous than single chemicals, leading to a spectrum of additive and synergistic effects. Number 3. A key factor is WHEN and for HOW LONG exposure occurs. The most sensitive windows are the periods of development, so embryonic and fetal periods, infancy and puberty.
The effects of EDs unfortunately are deceitful: you don’t see any immediate effects, but after long-term exposures you would have a slow, persistent damage of general functions, and the consequences will appear after many years.
So, the key words about ECDs are: INTERFERENCE, LOW DOSE, LONG-TERM EXPOSURE WINDOWS OF SUSCEPTIBILITY. Remember these 4 points. Shopper-Vicky asks Question 3 You talked about long-term effects, due to slow and chronic exposure.
Is it possible then to protect the most vulnerable human categories: embryos, children, adolescents? Answer 3 This is a very sensitive issue, I understand how mothers can worry about this. As you are learning in this course, we are all exposed to environmental EDCs, because EDCs are in the air, in the soil, in dust, in water, in food. What we can do is try to reduce exposure especially of pregnant women, infants and adolescents. How? The best way is to change habits and pay more attention to what we are exposed to.
For example, to protect newborn and kids, we can use BPA- free feeding bottles and phthalate-free plastic toys, avoid the use of PVC mattresses, deeply clean surfaces and ensure regular air exchange in the rooms. Opinio-Neil asks Question 5 Do we have the right tests for EDCs ? Are there exposimeters? Can we actually monitor environment and people, instead of always saying “COULD”, “MAY”, “PERHAPS”? People need certainties. Answer 5 Well, I am not an epidemiologist, so I will answer mainly your first question. No, we do not have an EXPOSIMETER, just like we don’t have a COVID-meter for the coronavirus. They simply don’t exist and you should be skeptical if someone proposes this. Instead, we have tests and monitoring schemes.
The ideal test should adhere to high scientific standards, be informative and cheap. Depending on the question we are asking, we may want to choose one or another, as you have learned in the ARTICLES. A lot still needs to be done, since for a wide range of effects, laboratory models are not yet available. AS for my opinion is that we should invest more in EDC research. If we don’t do this we will not advance. Europe has been recently funding a small number of research projects on EDCs. Let me mention here the Exposome Project, the HealthRISK and the SELMA projects, but unfortunately much less is done at the national levels.
Industry-Alex asks Question 7 Look, this is all fine, but when it comes to say if THIS or THAT material is SAFE or not SAFE, no one thinks about the producers ? Switching to new materials means costs, investments, production lines, trained personnel, all on the shoulders of industry. The industry simply CANNOT sustain this economic burden. And sometimes the scientific results turn out to be incorrect or partial… Answer 7 OK ALEX – You may know that scientists or researchers are NOT AGAINST industry when they run their experiments. This is a wrong start. We are on the side of the facts and we try to show how things are.
Indeed, we are trained to be CAREFUL when releasing our results; we are the first ones to be aware that each result is just a step, not a DEFINITIVE answer. This is especially true in this field in which experiments in humans cannot be performed. ON the other side, I think industry must carefully consider the risks of using particular compounds, e.g. a plasticizer for the production of food contact materials, such as BPA. I know it is not immediate and not easy, but the long-term goal should be a common strategy driven by governments, academics and industries together. We all care about human and environmental health. Only a system action will work. This is the topic of Week 4.
Question 8 Finally, is there a message you want to leave to our students ? Answer 8 Yes, sure! Remember there are more than 1,000 chemicals out there, with known or suspected interfering action on our hormonal system, such as food-contact materials and plasticizers, fire retardants, phthalates, organophosphates, pesticides, etc.
The take-home message is: 1) we are exposed to some EDCs throughout our entire lifetime; 2) low doses of EDCs can alter our endocrine system; 3) the most vulnerable period of exposure is during development, but the effects can become visible even decades later; 4) we need accurate and reliable tests for EDCs so that we can identify potential dangerous substances and limit our exposure.

In this video interview you will listen to Prof BOVOLIN talking and discussing about the importance to preserve our endocrine system and to avoid potential interference from unwanted chemicals. Don’t miss this important interview.

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