Environmental Monitoring for Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals [and the importance of utilizing bioassays]
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are a class of pollutants that has garnered a lot of attention. These are specific chemicals that disrupt or interfere with elements of endocrine signaling, a critical system that controls metabolism, growth, tissue, reproduction, mood, and other factors and functions in the human body. Depending on the type and outcome, EDCs can impact puberty, immune function, stress, weight, bone health, and more. Some common examples of sources of EDCs are:
- Industrial chemicals and pesticides
- Consumer products such as household chemicals, fabrics treated with flame retardants, cosmetics, lotions, products with fragrances, and anti-bacterial soaps
- Processed foods can contain traces of EDCs that leach out of materials used in manufacturing, processing, transportation, and storage
- Dust from weathering construction material or furniture containing lead, flame retardants, and PCBs
- Phytoestrogens, which are chemicals produced by plants that mimic estrogen such as in soy-based products
Due to the impact on humans and the environment, the EPA has even created a special program to screen chemicals to understand how they affect the endocrine system. If you are interested in learning more about this, take a look at our blog on EDCs and Environmental Toxicology.
Monitoring for Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals
Government agencies monitor waterways and require permitting and testing of effluent from outfalls of sewage treatment and disposal, industrial and agricultural wastewater management, as well as surface runoff from construction sites and urban environments. To track and decrease risk to humans and the environment, environmental assessments are performed to better understand the effects of a policy, program, or projects impact on the environment. This is to ensure our waterways stay safe from EDCs and assess if emergency action or remediation from pollutants is needed.
Though it is relatively easy to identify specific EDCs through traditional chemistry-based water quality assessments, they can only approximate the risk posed. Even with the EPA screening chemicals to assess toxicity, there are many chemicals where this information is not available. Also, analytical chemistry methods don’t consider other compounds found in the environment that can modulate a specific chemicals effect on the endocrine system. This makes truly assessing the total risk posed in water samples using just analytical chemistry methods difficult. Since endocrine disruption has the potential to cause a wide range of developmental, reproductive, neurological, or metabolic defects in humans and wildlife, it is important to be able to monitor and act quickly if toxic levels are present.
Cell-Based Assays: The Next Wave in Monitoring for EDCs
One way to improve monitoring and decrease the risk posed by complex mixtures of chemicals in the environment is by using in vitro bioassays. Cell-based reporter assays are in vitro bioassays that can quantitatively screen for activation of receptor specific pathways. This allows the reporter assays to detect the cumulative toxicity posed by mixtures of known and unknown chemicals found in a sample. Cell-based nuclear receptor specific reporter assays such as estrogen receptor assays, androgen receptor assays, and thyroid receptor assays can screen for the endocrine activity in water samples. This information can help water authorities understand and eliminate the risks posed by these mixtures that just using analytical chemistry methods can miss.
Nuclear receptor reporter assays are not only important to reducing the impact of EDCs, but nuclear receptors also have the ability to report on various cellular functions where dysregulation can lead to disease such as cancer. INDIGO Biosciences has the world’s largest catalog of nuclear receptor assay kits and services. INDIGO’s cell-based reporter assays are highly sensitive and produce clear results. Using nuclear receptor specific reporter assays like those from INDIGO allow researchers to identify samples of interest for further analysis and potential risk assessments.
Want to Learn More About Endocrine Disruption?
For a more in-depth review of EDCs and their mechanism of action, in particular focusing on their interaction of nuclear receptors, take a look at this scientific whitepaper by Jack Vanden Heuvel, PhD Nuclear Receptors & Endocrine / Metabolic Disruption.