Acting on uncertainty: real-life mixtures of endocrine disrupting chemicals
Exposure to multiple synthetic chemicals is a permanent feature of modern life. Many of these chemicals are suspected to disrupt endocrine systems of humans and animals. Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) act at very low concentrations and non-linearly, defying mainstream single-substance chemical regulation. Here we provide an analysis of findings from the first phase of the European Horizon2020-funded “EDC-MixRisk” project as a case of contemporary life-science enterprise, which addresses health-risks related to real-life exposure to mixtures of EDCs. Real-life EDC mixtures were inferred in the project from biological samples taken from pregnant women in a large epidemiological study that followed up their children over several years across major health domains; responses to these mixtures were then experimentally identified, and based on these findings, mixture risk assessment models were developed. The project consequently advocated for European chemical regulation more attentive to real-life exposure. Locating it within historical and sociological analyses of chemical exposure and within the European chemical political context, we argue that scientific uncertainty related to real-life EDC mixture exposure enables a form of epistemological approach and scientific activism, simultaneously in continuity with, and in break from, mainstream toxicology. In a chemically polluted world, this kind of science still occupies a place in the tension between public health and market-oriented regulation.