Health in the Time of Poison: A Conversation with Reproductive Health Expert Tracey Woodruff, PhD

By Jeff Miller

Photo of Tracey Woodruff

Tracey Woodruff

Anyone familiar with clinical trials understands the extraordinary lengths taken in testing new drugs to determine that they are both safe and effective.

We also know by cruel example that these safeguards sometimes fail.

When they do, there is always a great hue and cry – and a lot of finger pointing – about who is most to blame for these unwanted risks to human health.

Why, then, I ask, is there not similar outrage about the 87,000 chemicals released into our environment – many of them in the last 60 years – which pose a clear threat to human health and which continue to amass and multiply in staggering amounts without proper testing or oversight?

From the increase in male genital abnormalities at birth to the early onset of puberty in girls, and from the declining levels of testosterone to the rising rates of breast cancer, chemicals like bisphenol A, phthalates, PCBs and PBDEs are leaving their nasty mark on humanity. Indeed, there is increasing evidence that the effects of certain chemicals are being passed on to our grandchildren.

How is that for a genetic legacy to make our ancestors proud?

Tracey Woodruff, PhD, director of UCSF’s Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, part of UCSF’s National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, understands these threats all too well. Woodruff, who worked in the Office of Policy, Economics and Innovation at the federal Environmental Protection Agency before coming to UCSF, is an expert on the impact of chemicals on reproductive health in both men and women. She has a particular interest in the effects of air pollution on children.

But it is the wider public interest on which she has now set her sights. The truth is that pertinent information – information that might energize the public and policymakers alike – lives isolated in the worlds of basic science, environmental science and health policy. Woodruff’s role is to ferret out, combine, educate, translate and bring the science into the public eye and into the clinic, where it can do the most good.

They say the truth will set you free. In this case, it might save us all.

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Related Links

Class of PCBs causes developmental abnormalities in rat pups
UCSF News Release, April 23, 2007
UCSF Welcomes Director of Reproductive Health and the Environment
UCSF Today, Nov. 5, 2007
Upcoming Summit on Environmental Challenges to Reproductive Health and Fertility
UCSF School of Medicine, Nov. 13, 2006
Endocrine Disruptors
Endocrine Disruptor
Endocrine Disruptors
Endocrine Disruptors
National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals
Fooling with Nature: Environmental Chemicals and Human Health
Frontline, PBS



Podcast transcript

Miller: Hello I’m, Jeff Miller, welcome to Science Café, I’m here today with Tracey Woodruff, director of the program on reproductive health and the environment, and an associate professor in residence at the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at UCSF. Welcome Tracy.

Woodruff: Thank you Jeff.

Miller: Now reproductive sciences, that has a certain Orwellian ring to it, can you explain what that is, or what they are?

Woodruff: Well, what we’re interested in, in terms of reproductive sciences, is really all those pieces that go along with our ability to reproduce. Essentially, our ability to get pregnant, ability to carry a healthy pregnancy, and have a healthy childhood, and then those parts that go along with having the ability again to reproduce later. So all those things like, being able to have a healthy reproductive system. So, ability to get pregnant, ability to carry a healthy pregnancy, and then look at issues related to those pieces that are related to reproductive function later.

When you go through puberty, there are certain parts of the body that change. Women develop breasts, they develop the ability to menstruate, their ovaries start to function normally so that they can reproduce later in life. Reproductive issues can occur in any of those parts of the body later on in life for women. Similarly with men, their ability to reproduce in terms of normally functioning penis and testicles, and their ability to have normal sperm counts and later reproduce.

Miller: Is this a field that is common at other research universities, or is it something particular to UCSF?

Woodruff: In terms of reproductive sciences, any department of obstetrics and gynecology would be concerned about all these particular issues that cover reproductive health in terms of ability to conceive, ability to carry a healthy pregnancy, and then, subsequent functioning of the different reproductive systems in men and women. What’s unique about the program at UCSF is our focus on how environmental contaminants can interfere with each of those different stages during the life course, and affect the ability of people to either have a healthy child, or have problems in their reproductive system later in life.

Miller: So was there a moment in your career, maybe even in your childhood when you first became interested in science?

Woodruff: I actually come from a background in engineering, and that was somewhat inherited from my own father who was trained in engineering, and I’ve always been interested in math and science as a child. I actually have a undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, but when I was an undergraduate, I wanted to do something that was a little broader and I was very captured with issues relating to the environment.

I actually went to get my PhD at a joint program between UCSF and UC Berkeley in bioengineering which at the time was quite small and now is actually a whole department at each of the universities. And then I sort of moved into the field of human health. I went from engineering, and then became interested in this idea about well how can I work in a field that really is both looking at the impacts on human health and help improve human health. I became very interested in how the environment may be playing a role in impacting human health. And that’s a little bit of my trajectory.

Miller: So did you build bridges with toys as a young girl?

Woodruff: I’m trying to remember – I was a tomboy – yeah, I was very interested in building things, I built a lot of models of ships and cars and things.

Miller: Did you ever feel discriminated against as a young girl growing up, for liking math and science – sometimes we hear that that is still the case today?

Woodruff: No, I didn’t feel like people gave me a hard time because I liked math and science, I do remember my mother buying me a chemistry set when I was probably about ten, that said “growing boy’s toy,” and we thought it was kind of funny at that time, but when I look back on it, that was obviously not appropriate.

When I grew up it was also the emergence of the feminist movement during the Seventies and so I think there was a lot of recognition about the potential of women and encouraging them to go into different types of fields like math and science, so– you know it’s interesting to sort of think back now, looking at today’s young women and whether they’re still being equally encouraged, but, certainly gender issues in toys still remained.

Miller: Were there a lot of women working at the EPA, I know that’s where you were before you came to UCSF, so could you tell me what you were doing at that famed institution?

Woodruff: I spent 13 years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, I was there for both the Clinton and Bush administrations, and while I was at EPA I had a very unique and interesting job.

I worked in what’s loosely called the office of policy. And the office of policy is a part of EPA that essentially both intersects with looking at how EPA does their regulations, and also provides advice on different kinds of aspects related to policy development at the U.S. national level. And my job was a little bit unique because I was able to both participate in original studies - I did a lot of work on issues related to air pollution. And develop information to access the levels of air pollution outside, and then look at the impacts of air pollution particularly on perinatal health.

I also got very interested in issues related to child development. During that time, during the early part of the Clinton years, and following into the Bush years, there was a growing recognition, push, on at the agency to really focus on these issues about how environmental contaminants can affect early development. A lot of science shows that when the developing organism is exposed to environmental contaminants, that exposure can represent a greater time of susceptibility compared to exposures as an adult.

So, the science in this area is much more robust, but at the time, back in the 1990s, it wasn’t very well integrated into the thinking of EPA – about how do we both, advance the science in terms of exposures during life and revealing what those susceptibilities might be; and then what does that mean in terms of the kind of policies and regulations we do in terms of trying to make sure we protect the whole public.

So some of the areas that I also was able to work on (that sort of intersected in that) was looking at how policies that EPA sets in terms of national guidelines on how they think about environmental contaminants. I participated in a lot of those in terms of both writing guidelines, advising the upper management at EPA about things that they should do in order to develop policies that protect children better, and also develop tools, analytic tools that policy makers could use to try and monitor trends in environmental factors that may be important for kids’ environmental health.

Miller: I have to ask this question: were you ever concerned about the liability issues as you were uncovering more information about what industries or what chemicals might be doing what to whom and when?

Woodruff: Well, you mean in terms of me personally being sued?

Miller: No, but in terms of the kinds of industries that might be implicated as the source of some these chemicals.

Woodruff: When you work at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, you are very familiar with all the industries who are concerned about the implications about what EPA is doing for their work. Because it's a community that is obviously impacted by the types of decisions EPA makes. So they make a point of coming to visit or sending their concerns to EPA. So yes, we interacted with them often, on different types of issues.

Miller: Now you have moved from a government institution to an academic institution. Why UCSF?

Woodruff: UCSF represents a very unique and interesting opportunity in terms of looking at issues related to environmental health. UCSF is obviously a premier medical school, a medical institution that offers professional health training in medicine, dentistry and nursing.

Miller: ...And pharmacy...

Woodruff: And pharmacy.. And pharmacy’s actually very important because they have a whole program that deals with looking at toxicology. But the thing that’s very interesting about UCSF in terms of both having a very premier professional school and also very high calibre research in the basic sciences, is that there’s really very little going on in terms of the intersection between the issues that they’re concerned about which primarily relate to human health and environmental contaminants. So, the broader theme is, that a lot of people work in the health sciences, and they’re a group of people who do work in environmental health sciences, but there’s not very good intersection between the two, even though each field could benefit greatly from looking at what each other is doing.

For example, some of the things we know from pharmaceutical drugs and how they affect young children is very pertinent to what EPA or other agencies or policy people are thinking about in terms of looking at the impacts of environmental contaminants on development. So coming to UCSF represents a really unique opportunity to engage with basic scientists and clinicians and other healthcare providers who have a different set of pieces of information about human health and development that can be very informative to thinking about how can environmental contaminants play in terms of impacting human health and development.

Miller: So I see a bridge here (your engineering background) bridging a gap,

Woodruff: (laughter)

Miller: If you’ll indulge me for a second, about twenty years ago I was in a car ride with one of UCSF’s experts on occupational health, and we were doing a story on human health impacts of a toxic waste dump. He told me then that humans were part of this unwitting experiment on themselves, that there were tens of thousands of chemicals being released into the environment and we had no idea of what the potential environmental impacts were.

Now flash forward, twenty years later, I’m sitting here across from you; I read about reports on these Artic villages, where twice as many girls as boys are being born because of environmental contaminants – I was alarmed twenty years ago, should I be panicked now? What exactly is going on, what is the scope of this story?

Woodruff: Well, first of all, you shouldn’t panic. I mean obviously there is an issue for concern. One of the things that’s very interesting in working in this field, particularly when I talk to other people about my job, I’m like ‘oh I’m really interested in environmental contaminants and how they impact either prenatal health or child health’ and then you start to talk about it, just like you had this experience in the car - you talk to parents and they say well there weren’t kids with peanut allergies when I was a kid and now lots of kids have severe peanut allergies.

Kids didn’t really have asthma, and now asthma is much more prevalent than is used to be, more kids appear to have neuro-developmental disabilities – increases in autism, or attention deficit disorder. Then you marry that with what we know from data that being collected nationally from the CDC that shows that everybody carries with them a load of environmental contaminants. Whether it’s lead or mercury, new studies have come out about bistinalay and phthalates, when you talk about these things then people say ‘oh you’re job is a little bit depressing, and how do you not just wanna go and put yourself in a bubble and hide.’ I think the thing that’s important to remember is, yes, we have challenges ahead of us we need to keep working on, but we also have examples of success in the past, where we’ve actually been able to reduce the impact of environmental contaminants, primarily through actions that happen at a broad level.

For example, when I was growing up, there was lead in gasoline. There is no more lead in gasoline in the United States. And that’s because EPA took the lead out of gasoline in the 1970s.

Miller: The lead that’s showing up in our body burden counts, where’s that coming from?

Woodruff: Well, some of the lead that’s showing up is, there’s sort of trace amounts left, there’s still some places for example that, lead smelters in the U.S. that are still in operation, there’s a concern now with lead in some consumer products that sort of popped up because the whole globalization of trade. You heard about the lead in the toys, so we both can successfully get rid of things but we also have to keep vigilant about keeping things out of contact to the human health.

So, lead was a very great example. Body burdens of lead that we thought were unachievable back in the seventies, we now have levels that are extraordinarily low compared to what they were in the seventies. And recently, you’ll see for example, in the state of California, the governor signed a bill to remove phthalates from toys. Well, when those phthalates are removed from toys, I’m sure you’ll see that the levels of phthalates in children will drop, and as we start to march towards and look at other sources of some of these contaminants that are ubiquitous, and we look at interventions that can actually remove them from exposures to the public, we can be successful in terms of reducing that burden from environmental contaminants.

Miller: You mentioned earlier when we were talking about the development of human organism, and I guess there’s a particular class of chemicals, the endocrine-disrupting chemicals,

Woodruff: Yes,

Miller: that have a particular impact, so could you describe what they can do and at certain critical stages…

Woodruff: So there is a concern, and this has been emerging, over I’d say roughly the last twenty years through both scientific experimentation, and communication of the science to the public, about chemicals which have the ability to mimic naturally occurring hormones in the body. So chemicals that can act like estrogen; or chemicals that can act like testosterone; or chemicals that can interfere with the production of estrogen or testosterone. And if those chemicals do that in the body, the hormones which are part of – change - at certain levels during development and are part of the natural development of the reproductive organs. If you interfere with those then they can have long downstream consequences in terms of health effects.

So for example, when a male boy is developing in utero, their levels of testosterone can change dramatically; they go from very low to almost adult levels, and then back down again, because testosterone is a very important part of the development of the penis, and the descendance of the testicles. So that, when the baby boy is born he has a normal set of reproductive organs.

Now, animal experiments have shown that if you expose a animals to phthalates, which basically reduce levels of testosterone, you can actually inhibit the normal development both of the penis and the testicles resulting in what we call Hypospadias which is incomplete formation of the penis, cryptorganism which is undescended testicles, or you can have even more subtle markers of incomplete male development, for example, there is a measure of the distance from the anus to the genitals, called anogenital distance, which is a fairly standard measure that toxicologists use to measure complete development of the reproductive organs in the male.

Exposure to phthalates can also reduce that distance, thereby, an indicator that the male reproductive organs have not completely developed.

Miller: Is there any indication that the rates of these problems are rising?

Woodruff: Yes, the data suggests that there has been increases in Hypospadias and Cryptorchidism, there is data in certain areas showing that, sort of downstream events, which are reduction in sperm viability, whether it’s damaged sperm, low sperm count, etc, which can lead to infertility – there have been studies suggesting that there’s been decreases in sperm in certain populations. And there was a very interesting study that came out recently showing that testosterone levels have declined. It was from a cohort study in Massachusetts basically showing that men measured at the same age -- their testosterone levels from ten or 20 years ago compared to today, have lower testosterone, same age, then they did about 20-so-odd-years-ago.

And we also know that there’s been an increase in rates of testicular cancer. And that’s gone up about 60% in white men over the last 20 – 30 years, which is also related to this issue about effects in utero from exposure to – has been shown to be related through animal studies from exposure to environmental contaminants.

Miller: OK, we’ve talked about males, how about females. What would be some of the impacts?

Woodruff: Well, I have to say the area of female reproductive health is not as well studied-

Miller: A gender bias?

Woodruff: (Laughter) -A gender bias – a new agenda? – Though there’s been a lot of studies about breast cancer, which is considered in the family of reproductive health problems for women. What some studies have shown, is that exposure to some of these endocrine destructing chemicals before birth can predispose the mammary cells to be more likely to generate into a breast cancer.

We do know from animal studies that also exposures during puberty are very important. You mentioned the windows of susceptibility, basically, the windows of susceptibility are those times, primarily during development, when there are great changes occurring in the body. And those times of great change can also present opportunities of increased risk from exposure to environmental contaminants.

So during puberty, as we talked about earlier, there are certain changes going on in particular areas of the body. Young girls are developing breasts during puberty. Well that also represents a time of increased susceptibility to environmental contaminants. So there are, for example, animal studies showing that exposure to chemicals, which can damage DNA, can cause a higher rate of breast cancer in animals that are exposed during puberty, than even if they’re exposed when they are younger or older.

Miller: And is the onset of puberty coming at an earlier age for women?

Woodruff: Yes, the issue about the onset of puberty is something that is of growing concern. There have been, starting probably about in the mid 1990s, studies documenting that the age of onset of particular parts of puberty appear to be going down. There are three pieces of puberty: there’s breast development, there’s pubic hair, and then there’s menarche, which is the start of the menstrual cycle. And the data suggests that, the age of thelarche, breast development has gone down. The age of menarche does not appear to be changing too much.

Miller: So could we put some years on this; it was 12, now it’s 10, or it was 11, now 9 -

Woodruff: I’d have to check exactly, but there are definitely reports showing that girls as young as six or seven can be beginning to start puberty.

Miller: And that would have been considered at one time extremely rare but now more common?

Woodruff: More common, right.

Miller: Something else that I read in your reports also struck me. We ’ve talked about some clearly defined problems in male genitalia at birth or something, but that there are these more insidious facts in a way that show up later in adulthood and these things may set you up for, let’s say, increased rates of particular kinds of cancer.

Woodruff: Right-

Miller: And then, that they may even be passed on to the next generation. So could we talk about that?

Woodruff: Yeah. It’s interesting because some of these studies go all the way back to – some of their initial concerns about this were raised during the DES episode. So DES is Diethyl, it was a drug that was given to women back in the ‘40s -‘60s, with the idea that it would prevent miscarriages, which it did not. Subsequently, the daughters of the mothers who were taking this drug developed a very rare form of vaginal cancer. Even though the moms themselves suffered no adverse consequences. Basically providing the, very tragic, but key information that exposures in the womb could manifest themselves in outcomes that don’t occur until the offspring are much older. Essentially the daughters were older, in their 20’s or older when they got these rare forms of vaginal cancers, and since those studies have come up a lot of different other types of reproductive health outcomes have been tied to prenatal exposure to DES.

And now what were seeing is that it affects their children’s ability to both have another child, and then it can also pass on to their children. And there’s a very nice set of studies done by Pat Hunt, up at the Washington State in Pullman, showing that exposure to bisphenol A in the womb, can affect essentially the developing eggs of that mom’s daughter, that would be her subsequent grandchild. And so, essentially an exposure to a mom can have this transgenerational effect, because of the exposures that occur in the womb.

Miller: Let’s draw that one out a little bit more, so that’s the bisphenol A?

Woodruff: bisphenol A, correct.

Miller: So where would we find that in products that we might encounter daily?

Woodruff: bisphenol A is actually one of those chemicals shown to disrupt the endocrine system – there’s a recent study that’s just online now in Environmental Health Perspectives that everybody carries some kind of burden of bisphenol A in their body. And the sources of exposure are thought primarily to be through consumer type products, so it’s in the lining of cans, it’s in certain types of plastic bottles, it can leak from certain types of plastic bottles and plastics, those are thought to be the primary sources of bisphenol A.

I would like to point out that as the science continues to develop, we are finding that a lot of these chemicals that are of high concern now, bisphenol A, phthalates, appear to be coming from sources that we’ve either traditionally not looked at, or not part of the existing regulatory structures that we have to govern chemicals. For example they can show up in cosmetics, or shampoos, or food can linings, and what ends up happening is, we don’t actually have all the information we really need to figure out what are all the real sources of this chemical because we don’t really have the tools from a sort of policy standpoint to identify where they’re coming from.

Miller: Let’s make a brief digression. Let’s say that I want to create a new cosmetic. At this point what are the regulatory rules about what I can put into those cosmetics, or a shampoo or toothpaste or any other consumer product. Does this list of chemicals I use have to be approved by someone, or checked?

Woodruff: It depends on whether it’s a new chemical or an existing chemical. So if you manufacture a new chemical, it does have to be registered with EPA and they do some kind of check to evaluate whether is has potential for human health harm. Whether that’s a satisfactory process or not is debated. If you use an existing chemical and you’re putting it into a cosmetic, my understanding is that would go through FDA, it would not go through EPA, and FDA’s current program for evaluating things like cosmetics, is really primarily a volunteer program. The industry’s asked to self regulate themselves in terms of identifying chemicals which may be a potential for harm.

Miller: That’s very reassuring…

Woodruff: (laughter)

Miller: How about if I want to make a new kind of plastic bottle for bottled water.

Woodruff: Well, again if you make a new chemical, there is some process to evaluate that from FDA. If you use an existing chemical and you wanna make a new kind of bottle, it probably would be covered under consumer products safety commission, which again is more of a voluntary, less regulatory-like structure.

In terms of regulation, in terms of who’s monitoring the types of things that we might be exposed to, EPA probably has the strongest set of laws, in terms of being able to, ‘OK let’s go monitor what’s in the air, let’s actually figure out if it’s a problem for people’.

It doesn’t really work like that for consumer products or cosmetics.

Miller: So in talking about the long list of existing chemicals, it’s tens of thousands, correct?

Woodruff: Yes, tens of thousands.

Miller: And, there is this synergistic effect, the combined effect, we talked about earlier, and I’m wondering if you could spend a few moments discussing that.

Woodruff: In our life, you could get exposed to environmental contaminants through lots of different ways. It’s in the air we breathe, it’s in the water we drink, there’s contaminants in food, as we discussed, some of the consumer products- it’s in shampoos and cosmetics, so somebody is not just exposed to one particular contaminant at a time, they essentially get exposure to multiple contaminants. And we know, this has been verified both through the independent analysis looking at these various contaminants and whether people are exposed, and then looking at actual people and measuring the level of contaminants in people, and you can see that most people carry several different types of chemicals in their body – the challenge to all this, agencies, who are supposed to be regulating environmental contaminants aren’t looking at, ‘well, is this particular contaminant gonna be a problem for human health’ – they’re looking, typically, at studies where they take a bunch of animals and they expose it to one chemical at a time.

Which doesn’t really reflect what’s going on in the real world. So there have been movements to, for some experimenters to look at, ‘well what happens if we expose animals to a bunch of different chemicals, like not just one, or two, but seven chemicals’ and there’s a nice set of studies that have come out of some researchers at EPA showing that, for example, when animals are exposed to multiple phthalates, or, some phthalates and some pesticides, both of which act on the male reproductive system, that you can get an effect that is essentially additive. That is greater than if you were exposed to just one chemical. So more animals will get essentially the health effect, they’ll have more impact on their testosterone levels, they’ll have greater incidence of Hypospadias and cryptorchidism like we discussed, than they would if they were exposed to a certain chemical.

Miller: So are there scientists other than those at the EPA actually looking at the synergeristic effect?

Woodruff: There are scientists looking at this issue in a number of different institutions, but they tend to be focusing on different systems, for example, there has been some nice work done by some scientists at Ruckers, looking at the combined effects of different types of pesticides that act on the brain during development and the effects on the neurodevelopmental system, there has been some other studies looking at the effects on exposure to chemicals which can disrupt the thyroid system and how those multiple exposures can combine to essentially, additively, effect the impacts on reductions on certain thyroid hormone levels.

Miller: Is the hope for this program here at UCSF to - we talked about bridging earlier - pulling all this information together and doing something with it, is that an objective?

Woodruff: Yes, we have three primary objectives. One is to increase the science base through research. The second is education, both education within the trainees, professionals and students and also education of existing health professionals and patients, and the third is policy, and policy really has multiple pieces but roughly, we have to pull together the science, synthesize it and then translate it to the audience who is trying to make decisions.

And so, in terms of your question, one of the things I’m very interested in is pulling these pieces of information together and looking at what they can tell us in terms of, well, what are the kinds of actions we should be taking in the policy arena that can better protect the public from impacts from environmental contaminants and are the current policy tools that we have really meeting the challenges that are facing us in terms of what the science is saying.

Miller: Will there be diagnostic tools, let’s say, for clinicians that arise from this?

Woodruff: It’s possible, one of the things that’s very interesting actually is trying to also bridge the gap between people who are doing animal experiments and people who are looking at human experiments. So for example I talked to you about this issue about exposures to phthalates and the issue about anogenital distance, which I mentioned has been a traditional measure of male reproductive organ development, well, that’s actually never been looked at in humans. And a researcher at University of Rochester, Shauna Swan, actually published a study, about two years ago, looking at exposures in pregnant moms, and what was the anogenital distance in their offspring. And she found that, the higher the exposures to phthalates, the shorter the anogenital distance in the offspring. Now, part of this research project is to actually develop more of a standardized tool of how to measure this in the clinic, and she’s actually working with Larry Baskin in terms of thinking about, well, how do we standardize this tool, what’s the best way to measure it, and then can we actually introduce this into clinical care in terms of diagnostic measurements.

Miller: So now we have all this information, and I’m thinking of friends of mine who happen to be pregnant at the moment, and they’re gonna listen to this broadcast, and they might be panicked, so what can an average person do whether it’s a woman who is pregnant or not, to protect themselves.

Woodruff: I think there’s two things to think about in terms of this question, the first is, what are some of the practical things that I, as someone who’s pregnant, or someone who has kids, can do to minimize my exposures to some of these contaminants. There are some relatively simple things people can do, for example, don’t microwave in plastic, and throw out old plastic containers because they tend to leak more than your newer plastics.

Another thing is to try and buy locally produced, organic food when it’s reasonable, certain types of food are better to buy than others, and another issue is, well, you can also buy, as you’ve probably seen an explosion on this in the market, you can buy consumer products, shampoos, hairs and lotions, that are either EU compliant, the EU does not allow certain chemicals in their products, or-

Miller: EU being the European Union?

Woodruff: European Union, unlike the United States, or more organic in nature.

Miller: Well, I’m still worried, but I’m happy you’re on the case -

Woodruff: OH! I wanted to say another thing actually. It’s great that people can take personal actions to try and reduce their exposures, and some of those can work very well, but to me the way that we can best protect the public is also to ask the government to do a better job in terms of what they’re doing to try and eliminate or reduce those exposures that are harmful.

Miller: And how would we do that?

Woodruff: You have to call your legislature. I think the key is that if there is pressure from concerned citizens on their legislature, that they will then respond by insuring either that the government agencies are adequately doing their job, or pass new laws that sort of eliminate the kinds of things that are potential exposures to kids.

So for example that phthalates in toys bill I talked to you about? That was partly because there were some concerned parents – well first actually it goes back to, y’know the bill in San Francisco, to get rid of phthalates in toys in San Francisco. That was pushed by a group of parents who were concerned about having these products in their toys, and then that ended up being pushed at a state level, and now we’re gonna have a ban in California.

Miller: So your role is to bring this information forward and perhaps that would be the spur that others would use to put pressure on legislators and other government agencies.

Woodruff: Yes, we’d like to be able to provide a conduit for information that could provide good decision-making that could result in better public health protection.

Miller: Tracey thank you for joining us, I’m still worried, but I feel better you’re on the case, thanks.

Woodruff: Good, I hope I didn’t paralyse you, that’s the bad thing… You’re welcome!