Dr. Theo Colborn – one of 10 female scientists remembered in 2014

The Scientific American magazine reported a list of 10 notable women scientists who have passed away this year (2014). While I was browsing the list, one scientist’s profile captured my attention: Dr. Theo Colborn’s.

I am not familiar with her  research in detail, but I recognize the importance in our life. She did a groundbreaking research on how exposure to synthetic chemicals can produce lasting (mostly adverse) effects on living organisms. She is the one who coined the term “endocrine disruption” and who has contributed to the bans of bisphenol A (BPA) in consumer products (i.e. plastics) in many countries.

As a person who has a great interest in the impacts of plastics in the environment, I marveled at the strange effects of synthetic chemicals on endocrine physiology of fishes in rivers and coastal oceans, and wondered what might be occurring to the human bodies at this moment without our recognition. Many disastrous health effect by synthetic chemicals occur only after accumulating over a long period of time until its amount surpasses the critical threshold.

It is probable that this physiological disruption is linked with a continuous unregulated supply of plastics to the environments. Many plastic products (synthetic chemicals themselves) either contain some toxic compounds in them or they are coated with various chemicals for functionality or human health protection. The problem is  that, as they break down in the environments, these chemicals would leak out to the surrounding environment. So far there is no known bio-degradable plastics despite a common perception of general public. That means, the plastics only break into smaller and smaller pieces, but don’t disappear. They only disappear from our views (and our awareness).

What we know is that out of over 200 million tons of plastics produced worldwide each year, only a tiny fraction is being recycled or properly captured for treatment/storage. Vast majority of the plastics, in various sizes, are entering the environments from parks and creeks to rivers to oceans and to living organisms’ bodies in myriad numbers. No one know how much fraction of the plastics (or associated chemicals) is being ended up in the seafood that we consume.

I feel grateful about her research and about the magazine’s recognition of Dr. Colborn’s research. As the magazine stated, she is Rachel Carson of her time who did an amazing job in raising awareness about the dangers of synthetic chemicals in our environments and in human health.

Perhaps there is (are) other young scientist(s) who will become the next generation of Rachel Carson and Theo Colborn out there somewhere doing another groundbreaking research in this issue. Maybe about the fate of microplastics in the land and ocean environments including living organisms, or finding of yet another adverse impact by seemingly innocuous synthetic chemicals in our daily life.

Gone in 2014: Remembering 10 Notable Women in Science

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