Thresholds and Endocrine Disruptors: An Endocrine Society Policy Perspective

Journal of the Endocrine Society
From Barbara Demeneix, Laura N Vandenberg, Richard Ivell and R Thomas Zoeller



The concept of a threshold of adversity in toxicology is neither provable nor disprovable. As such, it is not a scientific question but a theoretical one. Yet, the belief in thresholds has led to traditional ways of interpreting data derived from regulatory guideline studies of the toxicity of chemicals. This includes, for example, the use of standard “uncertainty factors” when a “No Adverse Effect Level” (or similar “benchmark dose”) is either observed, or not observed.

In the context of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), this approach is demonstrably inappropriate. First, the efficacy of a hormone on different endpoints can vary by several orders of magnitude. This feature of hormone action also applies to EDCs that can interfere with that hormone. For this reason, we argue that the choice of endpoint for use in regulation is critical, but note that guideline studies were not designed with this in mind.

Second, the biological events controlled by hormones in development not only change as development proceeds but are different from events controlled by hormones in the adult. Again, guideline endpoints were also not designed with this in mind, especially since the events controlled by hormones can be both temporally and spatially specific. The Endocrine Society has laid out this logic over several years and in several publications. Rather than being extreme views, they represent what is known about hormones and the chemicals that can interfere with them.

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