A chemical agent that interferes with natural hormones in the body. Hormones are secreted by endocrine glands (such as the pituitary, thyroid, pancreas, ovary, and testis), are transported through the body in the bloodstream, and regulate body growth and metabolism, other endocrine organs, and reproductive functions. There is emerging concern that endocrine disruptors may be causing human health or ecological effects, such as abnormal thyroid function, decreased fertility, and alteration of immune and behavioral function. This concern arises from demonstrated instances (an example is the ability of diethylstilbestrol (DES) to disrupt female reproductive function throughout the lifespan in laboratory animals and humans) and the fact that hormones are biologically active at very low concentrations (at parts per billion or less), so low levels of disruptors may similarly be biologically active. In amendments to the Safe Drink Water Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act in 1996, Congress directed the Environmental Protection Agency to study endocrine disruptors. The outcome of this research will be of consequence to agriculture because some pesticides and animal growth stimulants have been hypothesized to act as endocrine disruptors.
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