Because children and developing babies are particularly vulnerable, the endocrine-disrupting chemicals used during natural gas drilling may disproportionately impact local communities, said Lunder of the Environmental Working Group.
"In a community, you want to limit exposures…because someone's generally pregnant, or there are kids around. Those effects may be less for the healthy [adult] workers who are handling these products."
The chemical industry and some scientists say more evidence is needed about how low doses of endocrine-disrupting compounds affect human health. Last week, the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group, issued a statement in response to the new report, saying it "has committed substantial resources to advancing science to better understand any potential effects of chemical substances on the endocrine system."
"We hear all the time that 'the dose isn't high enough to be toxic,'" said Guillette, the South Carolina endocrinologist. "We're trying to get physicians in the U.S. to be aware of how important environmental exposures are to health."
Some regulatory agencies are already on board. Last week, the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives ran an editorial by the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (part of the National Institutes of Health) that emphasized the importance of low dose testing. And in early 2011, a group of scientific associations representing 40,000 researchers wrote an open letter to the journal Science about "the growing recognition that currently accepted testing paradigms and government review practices are inadequate for chemicals with hormone-like actions."
Vandenberg hopes the new report can help regulators design better safety tests, and raise awareness of the importance of endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
"BPA has been a way for people to understand how small amounts of a chemical…could be having an effect," she said. "But in general, the public probably doesn't realize how widespread the problem is."