July 30, 2014

Scrolling Headlines:

UMass Football summer coverage 2014 -

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Chiarelli: Sam Koch’s impact evident in those who knew him best -

Monday, July 21, 2014

Longtime UMass men’s soccer coach Sam Koch dies after two-year battle with sinus cancer -

Monday, July 21, 2014

Southwest evacuated after gas leak -

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

UMass Rowing finishes NCAA Championships, ends year ranked No. 21 in the nation -

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Two UMass basketball alums to compete for a lofty prize in The Basketball Tournament -

Friday, May 23, 2014

Commencement Photos 2014 -

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Two arrested in relation to series of vandalism -

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Students push for relocation of the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health -

Monday, May 12, 2014

Video: No. 14 UMass WLAX ends season in loss to Loyola (MD) -

Saturday, May 10, 2014

No. 14 UMass women’s lacrosse season ends in loss to Loyola (MD) -

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Sixth inning rally propels UMass past Dayton 7-2 -

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

McMahon, Ferris and McGovern: Not your usual transfer story -

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Women’s lacrosse defeats Richmond 10-6 to win sixth straight A-10 Championship -

Sunday, May 4, 2014

No. 13 UMass women’s lacrosse knocks off Duquesne 16-3 to reach Atlantic 10 finals -

Friday, May 2, 2014

UMass one of 55 schools currently facing investigation over handling of sexual assault cases -

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Two thefts reported at library -

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Senior Columns 2013-2014 -

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

UMass Dining proposes major meal plan changes -

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

UMass baseball beats UConn for first time since 2007 -

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Thomas Zoeller puts spotlight on dangers of chemicals

Bryn Rothschild-Shea

On Monday evening, biology professor Thomas Zoeller took the stage at the Massachusetts room at the Mullins Center, and in an hour-long lecture, talked about how exposure to certain industrial chemicals is harmful for early childhood development.

At the end of the evening, Zoeller was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal on behalf of University of Massachusetts Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, adding to an already illustrious career which also includes the Samuel F. Conti Research Fellowship in 2004

Speaking in a thorough, yet good humored manner, Zoeller started off by walking everybody through his findings.

Originally, Zoeller studied how the brain controls the endocrine system, but then decided to particularly pursue research on the thyroid hormone and how its production is affected by foreign chemicals.

He cited two reasons for this switch: the first being that he became a parent and wanted to further the extent of study on the chemical influence on early childhood, a neglected area in science at the time.

The second reason was his experiences when he was on the Endocrine Disruptor Screening and Testing Advisory Committee (EDSTAC). The committee was formed by the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States to provide the necessary information about controlling the endocrine effects of chemicals.

The specific family of harmful chemicals that Zoeller emphasized is polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), which used to be a commonality in the United States. Regulation of PCB was banned by legislation in 1979, but according to Zoeller, everybody in America currently has PCB in their system, while babies being born today receive it genetically.

According to Zoeller, in the late 80s and early 90s, the placenta was only considered a medium of transport of desired substances. People did not know that toxins, and even alcohol could just as easily go to the baby from the mother.

Exposure to PCB before birth has been linked with lower IQ and impulsivity, and Zoeller’s research has revealed that the chemicals can also disrupt the endocrine system, specifically the regulation of the thyroid hormone. The thyroid hormone is so essential for brain development that deficiency of it can cause mental retardation. Even small fluctuations in thyroid hormone levels impact cognitive function.

There is no escaping how widespread chemicals are, with 73 billion pounds of them produced and imported daily into the U.S alone, according to Zoeller. He also mentioned how very few of these are actually tested for safety.

He used the example of hamburger wrappers in fast food joints, which are sprayed with the same substance Teflon is made of, so that the grease from the burger won’t get on customers.

However, the solution to this pressing issue is not clear-cut. Zoeller finished with talking about how humans live in a “chemical soup,” meaning even though chemicals deemed harmful are excluded, other toxins can cause harmful effects as well.

Alan Schneyer, a research professor from the biology department, has known Zoeller for five years, and commended the lecturer’s past work.

“Every time he’s taken a different approach, it’s always been at the cutting edge,” Schneyer said. “He’s not just discovering something, but always pushing the envelope with the next experiment.”

Schneyer believes that information about chemical exposure needs to spread in order for action to be taken.

“I think the government has a role in providing the information,” he said. “They can at least give guidelines about what is a safe level and what isn’t a safe level, at least as far as they know.”

Schneyer also foresees further research advancements into the field of endocrinology.

“The problem is that just because something has one of these chemicals in it, it doesn’t mean that it will necessarily get into you,” he said. “Even if you take away some of these exposures, the level that is in your blood doesn’t go down, so you have to be getting it from somewhere else. We still don’t know all of the places that these toxins are getting into us.”

Junior Toni Ambrogio cited her major, nutrition, that piqued her interest in the lecture. She plans on utilizing some of the points raised in her own personal life.

“I’ve also done some research on PCBs, but I’ve never heard it talked about in this manner,” she said. “I’ll definitely implement some of his ideas about not using plastic in the microwave or dishwasher, even though those things say ‘dishwasher-safe.’”

Emily Reilly, a freshman double major in biology and psychology, attended the lecture because her developmental psychology class has gone over “how different environmental factors can affect prenatal development.” She thought that Zoeller did well in talking to the audience as a whole.

“He explained it well,” Reilly said. “There were a few things that he mentioned that if I wasn’t a biology major I might not know about, but they weren’t important to what he was specifically talking about. I think it was just an add-on for the science people in the room.”

Senior Caitlin Rotkiewicz, who is a senior communication disorders major, came to the lecture because she is interested in learning more about her own health.

“In terms of the endocrine system, the thyroid particularly is skimmed over a lot,” she said. “I think he did a great job explaining the structures of molecules and then make that applicable to our bodies and our daily life.”

Rotkiewicz takes precautions in her daily life to minimize the effects of the “chemical soup.”

“I don’t use a water bottle that has BPA,” she said. “I keep my plastic, fragrance and shampoo usage down to a minimum. And I use healthy toothpaste, so I’m conscious about what I put into my body.”

Ayush Kumar can be reached at ayush@student.umass.edu.

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