Our Stolen Future

How we are threatening our fertility, intelligence and survival.

Our Stolen Future examines the ways that certain synthetic chemicals interfere with hormonal messages involved in the control of growth and development, especially in the fetus.

Little, Brown and Company

Theo Colborn. John Peterson Myers. Dianne Dumanoski.

The developing fetus uses these natural hormonal messages, which come from both from its own hormone system and from its mother, to guide development. They influence virtually all of the growing individual’s characteristics, from determining its sex to controlling the numbers of toes and fingers to shaping intricate details of brain structure.

Scientific research accumulating over the last 50 years, and accelerating during the 1990’s, has revealed that this hormonal control of development is vulnerable to disruption by synthetic chemicals. Through a variety of mechanisms, hormone-disrupting chemicals (also known as endocrine disrupting chemicals or endocrine disruptors) interfere with the natural messages and alter the course of development, with potential affects on virtually all aspects of bodily function.

Our Stolen Future explores the scientific discovery of endocrine disruption. The investigation begins with wildlife, as it was in animals that the first hints of widespread endocrine disruption appeared. The book then examines a series of experiments examining endocrine disruption of animals in the laboratory which show conclusively that fetal exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals can wreak life-long damage. These experiments also reveal some of the biological processes by which these chemicals have their effects, and that (in contrast to the dynamics of carcinogenicity) endocrine disruption effects can be caused by exposure to infinitesimally small amounts of contaminant. Moving from animals to people, Our Stolen Future summarizes a series of well-studied examples where people have been affected by endocrine disrupting chemicals, most notably the synthetic hormone dietheylstilbestrol (DES), to which several million women were exposed through misguided medical attempts to manage difficult pregnancies in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

Our Stolen Future then asks a broader, more difficult and more controversial set of questions. Given what is known from wildlife and laboratory studies, and from examples of well-studied human exposure, and given that exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in the real world is widespread at levels comparable to those sufficient to cause animal harm, what effects should health scientists be looking for in people in general? Effects to be expected include declines in fertility and other impacts on the reproductive system of both men and women, impairments in disease resistance, and erosions in intelligence.

The evidence on each of these predictions available through to the book’s publication in 1996 is incomplete. As we readily acknowledge in Our Stolen Future, some patterns are consistent with expectations, indeed highly suggestive, but existing epidemiological studies of people are insufficient to establish scientific certainty. The evidence since 1996 has become substantially stronger.

In our judgement, while scientific certainty is not yet available, sufficient evidence exists to justify a series of steps: in research, in public policy and in personal safeguards. The book examines each of these themes. Most importantly, we caution that the world-wide exposure to endocrine disruption has thrust everyone into a large-scale, unplanned, unintended experiment with health, the outcome of which may not be known for generations. Given the magnitude of plausible risk, we believe that dramatic measures should be taken to lower exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals as rapidly as possible.


Theo Colborn is Founder and President of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX), based in Paonia, Colorado, and Professor Emeritus of Zoology at the University of Florida, Gainesville. She is an environmental health analyst, and best known for her studies on the health effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals. In 1997 she was included in Time’s Heroes of the Environment. The list contains 43 entries, individuals or groups that have contributed substantially to the preservation of environment, and is divided into four categories: Leaders & Visionaries, Activists, Scientists & Innovators, and Moguls & Entrepreneurs.

Dianne Dumanoski has reported on national and global environmental issues for the Boston Globe and was the recipient of the prestigious Knight Fellowship in Science Journalism at MIT.

John Peterson Myers was director from 1990 to 2002  of the W. Alton Jones Foundation * a private foundation supporting efforts to protect the global environment and to prevent nuclear war.

(*) The W. Alton Jones Foundation was a charitable foundation, and a sponsor of environmental causes. It was originally involved in sponsoring the arts, particularly theatre. The foundation was started in 1944 by W. Alton “Pete” Jones, an oil executive and chairman of the board of Cities Service Company. In 2001, the Charlottesville, Virginia-based 56-year-old W. Alton Jones Foundation suddenly dissolved.[4] The $400 million endowment was split into three separate Foundations, the Blue Moon Fund run by Patricia Jones Edgerton (daughter of W. Alton Jones) and her daughter Diane Edgerton Miller, the Oak Hill Foundation run by son William Edgerton, and the Edgerton Foundation run by son Brad Edgerton.

Political influence (wikipedia)

The book chronicles the development of the endocrine disruptor hypothesis by Colborn. Though written for the popular press in narrative form, the book contains a substantial amount of scientific evidence. A foreword from then Vice President Al Gore increased the book’s visibility. It ultimately influenced government policy through congressional hearings and helped foster the development of a research and regulation initiative within the EPA.

Thousands of scientific articles have since been published on endocrine disruption, demonstrating the availability of grant money for research on the hypothesis raised by Our Stolen Future. For example, a symposium at the 2007 AAAS meeting explored the contribution of endocrine disruption to obesity and metabolic disorder. As is often the case, there is strong animal evidence but few epidemiological tests of predictions based on the animal experiments. Some of the most important papers that support the opinions of the book’s authors can be found via this link.