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The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
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Theo Colborn, 1927–2014

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For nearly 30 years TEDX's founder Dr. Theo Colborn dedicated herself to revealing the dangers of endocrine disrupting chemicals to wildlife, humans and the environment. More recently she alerted us to the threats posed by chemicals associated with oil and gas development.

Theo’s visionary leadership and passion shone most brilliantly when she made direct connections between new ideas, scientists whose work confirmed them, impacted individuals, and people in positions to change what needed changing. She will be remembered for many generations to come, generations that she worked tirelessly to protect.

Below is a memorial of stories that people submitted to TEDX after her death on December 14, 2014.  If you have a story you would like to share, please submit it at the bottom of this page.

Comments (87)

  1. Ken Cook:
    Dec 23, 2014 at 01:47 PM

    One day in 1987 a pink message slip showed up on my desk at The Conservation Foundation urgently requesting a meeting with a new scientist on the staff named Theo Colborn. The topic of the meeting?

    Endocrine disruptors.

    Just what I needed. I was the organization’s press director at the time, and part of my job was to help our scientists make their important, but often very technical and obscure work, sing siren songs to reporters (that was back when there still were reporters – lots of them).

    “Endocrine disruptors” certainly qualified as obscure. Might it even border on fringe? I couldn’t help but wonder.

    It hardly mattered. It was my duty to meet with this guy and see what I could do for him.

    Well, the topic was anything but fringe. And Theo wasn’t a guy.

    The graceful, beautiful, wiry and intense woman who sat down in my office with a folder full of papers didn’t really need much help from me. Theo had already gotten some pretty solid coverage of this endocrine disruptor business (she brought the news clips), and I could see why. She precisely and compellingly explained her evidence, insights and hypotheses surrounding the role of certain chemicals in altering sexual development and, quite probably, disrupting hormone systems in ways that caused other chronic health problems. Whenever she raced ahead with her story and sensed I was lost, Theo would circle back and spoon-feed a bit more science and explanation; then it was off to the races again.

    Eventually it dawned on me that Theo wasn’t meeting with me to help her get into the newspapers. She was there to recruit me to her cause.

    That was Theo. She recruited a generation of environmental advocates, and I was just another one of her countless lifers. Every call, every meeting with her thereafter over the decades was a recruitment. It was a frickin’ blast.

    All Theo really needed was a revolutionary rethinking across the entire field of toxicology, one that would marshal a small army of scientists. Then she needed to build an advocacy movement that would turn the emerging science into a force for change in the private sector and in government policy.

    How hard could that be? She set about doing all of it, and more.

    By sheer coincidence, around that same time I met the renowned environmental journalist Dianne Dumanoski, then with The Boston Globe, and an extraordinary environmental scientist named John Peterson (Pete) Myers. A decade later the three of them collaborated on the landmark book, “Our Stolen Future,” that engagingly tells the story of Theo’s discoveries and their implications for our health and the health of the planet. (My friend and colleague, the late environmental advocacy genius Phil Clapp, along with public relations legends Arlie Schardt and David Fenton, helped launch the book. It carried a foreword by then-Vice President Al Gore, no less. We had a momentary panic, and then a good laugh, when the books arrived the night before our packed Washington, D.C. press conference in boxes mislabeled “Our Stolen Furniture.” Maybe we would take the chemical industry by surprise after all!)

    By then Theo’s work was already being translated into policy initiatives, and her large and grateful following in the environmental community was putting her insights to use in all manner of campaigns and initiatives, at home and abroad. Industry hacks relentlessly attacked Theo and her science, to little avail. Theo’s devotees followed her ever after into pesticides, perfluorinated chemicals, fracking fluids and all manner of other important environmental debates that were powerfully shaped by her intellect, rock solid science and deep commitment to a healthy future.

    Theo held companies and government accountable – but she held the environmental community accountable, too. She insisted on rigor, commitment; she insisted that we stand strong, as she did, in the face of industry bullies, regulatory weaklings and political sellouts. She brought issue after issue our way at EWG. When Theo called with a hunch or a trail of evidence, and she often did, we didn’t hesitate to launch our own inquiries. Invariably she was on to something that we needed to know about – and we’d set to work. Today you see references to Theo, and the influence of her work, throughout EWG’s portfolio, from the inception of the organization in 1993 straight through to today. Her insights are reflected in everything from our online rating systems for personal care products, cleaners and food to our work on fracking chemicals, BPA, flame retardants, phthalates, toxic chemical reform, on and on.

    Theo was an inspiration to her fellow scientists, too. She attracted those who already possessed the commitment to propel their scientific insights into the policy process. And she drew out scientists who might have been reluctant to get near the heat of a debate with chemical companies until Theo’s intellect and personal courage convinced them to step up. She gathered all of them for critically important meetings and scientific proclamations that almost certainly would not have happened without her (including this one). Theo’s steadfast ally, collaborator and defender throughout many of these endeavors was Pete Myers, who is for so many of us now the leader of the movement Theo’s life and work inspired.

    Theo was the Rachel Carson of my generation of environmentalists who work on toxic chemicals, pollution and health. She inspired hard work, inventive investigation and courage across the entire environmental movement. As if to impart a final lesson, to the very end of her days she was sharp, engaged, networking as ever and deeply in the fray. Hell, she was still starting frays even as her health failed.

    I am so deeply sorry that the end has come. Theo changed the course of environmentalism, not just in America but around the world. She inspired so many of us to do the work we’ve been doing for 25 years.

    Just thinking about the twinkle in her eye, the mischievous smile as she invited you into her next environmental adventure, as she did in my office almost 30 years ago, makes me wonder: What exactly is it that I’m doing today, right now, to make a difference? Because for all the mysteries Theo uncovered, for all that she taught us, one conclusion stands out above all.

    Time is running out.

  2. Amy Wilson:
    Dec 21, 2014 at 06:36 PM

    Although I have not seen Theo for many years I have read all her books and have used her scientific breakthroughs on endocrine disruption in my activism and daily life.

    I first met Theo when I was a very little girl living in Boulder ,Co. She and her family moved from my neighborhood when I was four years old . I was devastated. This was all a long time before Theo became a scientist. I remember her being incredibly warm and kind. I had decided to marry her son "Happy" so I could forever be a part of her family.

    I wish I could have met her in my adulthood. I know we would have a lot of shared concerns and thoughts. When I watch interviews of Theo I can see some of my mannerism in her and I wonder if I imprinted on her as a very shy little girl. I can only hope so.

    I send my best wishes to her whole family.

  3. Lib Hutchby:
    Dec 21, 2014 at 12:35 PM

    Once upon a time, several years ago, there was our introduction, via website, www.endocrinedisruption.org, to TEDX and the extensive work of Dr. Theo Colborn on fracking and "endocrine disruption." Then we ordered dozens of copies of a CD named "What You Need to Know About Natural Gas Production." We ordered enough of them to give to every member of the NC Mining and Energy Commission (who had said they would develop "the best oil and gas rules in the country") and gave some to NC legislators. It's also been shown in most regions of North Carolina, in small groups and large.

    Fractivists from around the country, around the world, and right here in North Carolina, are indebted to the generosity of spirit shown by Dr. Colborn, whom we did not know personally. While viewing "What You Need to Know.." and other videos she had contribute to, we heard her voice, and listened to her immense bank of knowledge, shared freely to inform and protect the residents of the planet. We experienced her passion for justice; honestly, there were many non-scientists who had not heard of "endocrine disruption" until we heard Dr Colborn's explanation, while some among us had been following her courageous work for decades.

    It is to Dr. Theo Colborn that Frack Free NC pays tribute with these remarks, understanding that Dr. Colborn put health ahead of wealth, put truth above comfortable information, and insisted on accuracy in reporting as she and her teams researched life's responses to chemicals.

    Our hearts sink with sadness at her passing while our minds and the bodies of all species for generations to come, offer appreciation for the intelligence, wisdom, courage, stamina, tenacity, fortitude and encouragement that Dr. Theo Colborn's life and work offer all of us. Thank you again, Dr. Colborn from Frack Free North Carolina (www.frackfree.org) an alliance of over 30 organizations working together to ban fracking in North Carolina.

  4. Françoise Brucker-Davis:
    Dec 20, 2014 at 02:25 AM

    I first met Theo in 1997 when she interviewed me for a position in her team at WWF. I was then an endocrinologist working as the NIH and had never heard of endocrine disruption. I was sympathetic to environmental causes that's all. I remember this first meeting like if yesterday. She was just amazing with an energy and an enthousiasm to move mountains. She showed me a big jar in her office filled with the contents of a pelican's stomach who died from the garbage we throw in the sea and that he mistook for fish. An eye opener. A conscience opener. I was thrilled. I got the job and had the privilege to work with her for 2 years before moving back to France. This time working with her has entirely changed the way I understand endocrinology from a scientific, philosophical, or even spiritual point of view. She was extraordinary, hard working, funny, very sharp and had integrity, a quality of paramount importance for a scientist. She was able to transform others in getting them to grow into better persons. I still have the cookbook she offered me when we adopted our daughter Claire from China, and think of her each time I use it or see it. We kept in touch over the years. She was the mother or the grandmother inspiring so many of us throughout the world. She was a great Lady able to change the world in moving one conscience at the time. With much love, admiration and respect, Françoise

  5. carol:
    Dec 19, 2014 at 03:52 PM

    I never had the privilege to meet Theo Colborn but I had the chance to meet her work back in 1997 when I read the French translation of ‘Our Stolen Future’ as a young French activist. And I must say this was quite a shock to me. A positive shock as this book gave me the necessary conviction that I had to work hard to spread this knowledge around me and to make things change in my country and in the EU. Years later I still cling to this conviction in the fight we have to fight at the moment in France and in the EU to try to get protective legislations about EDCs despite the fierce lobbying from industry. I can measure what I owe Theo Colborn, as so many of my colleagues working in the field of environmental health, and I paid her a tribute in a text published on the website of the French week Politis here : http://www.politis.fr/Theo-Colborn-genie-scientifique,29490.html This is the only way I can say ‘thank you’ to her.

    François VEILLERETTE
    Spoke person for Générations Futures and PAN Europe’s Chair

  6. Chuck Benbrook:
    Dec 19, 2014 at 12:21 PM

    Where to start, how to end?

    Pete, thanks for so eloquently describing Theo, our friend, and capturing what she meant to her colleagues. Over the years since Theo and I lived a few blocks apart in D.C. in the early 1990s, with her in Paonia and me out west, I have always thought about Theo during a couple of verses of the Grateful Dead song, “I Know You Rider.” There will never be a better time or place to share a few lines of verse.

    “Lay down last night, Lord, I could not take my rest
    My mind was wandering like the wild geese in the West.”

    “I wish I was a headlight on a north-bound train
    I'd shine my light through the cool Colorado rain”

    “I know you rider, gonna miss me when I'm gone.
    I know you rider, gonna miss me when I’m gone.”

    And indeed we do, and will.








  7. Nicholas Ashford:
    Dec 18, 2014 at 10:08 PM

    A great scientist and an even greater humanitarian. My fondest memories were going with and Fred vom Saal to the Green European Parliamentarians in Brussels to press them to take up the endocrine issue while the US was languishing in its ignorance and many of its scientists were refusing to move beyond traditional toxicology to see what Theo saw. We were successful under her leadership. Few can claim success for their efforts in these difficult times but Theo was one of them. She will be sorely missed.

  8. Sonia Skakich-Scrima:
    Dec 18, 2014 at 10:05 PM


    I am so very saddened to learn of Dr. Colborn's passing.

    What an extraordinary human being she was! While her scientific work in establishing the field of endocrine disruption health impacts was unparalleled, she contributed so many seminal studies and pioneering ways of approaching health and environmental science and its application in the real world. Her longstanding courageous work in actively engaging scientific and government bodies and policymakers to consider urgently needed changes to chemical and toxic exposure law is frankly no less extraordinary than her scientific achievements.


    Few people in this world leave such a rich legacy of enduring works and courageous spirit.

    Thank you for assuring us that you will carry forwards her work (and yours) through TEDX, Dr. Kwiatkowski. And thank you sincerely for your own fierce dedication to the vital work of TEDX.

    In a rational world, Dr. Colborn's work should have effected a revolutionary paradigm shift in toxicology, public health policy, and laws regulating chemicals, toxic exposure and even energy policy. Let us hope that this sad occasion and reflection on her life's work will galvanize more citizens (and especially scientists!) to demand and achieve those urgently needed changes in protection of public health and all biota, by ensuring the clean water, air, and soil and climate stability needed to support all life for a healthy, viable future.

    Sincere condolences and with great respect,

    Sonia Skakich-Scrima, M.A.
    Aurora CO
    (with the citizens group What the Frack?! Arapahoe)

  9. Shane Davis:
    Dec 18, 2014 at 03:32 PM

    Dear Theo,

    It’s with many tears that I write these words to you about how you and your work changed the course of my life. I will always honor our times together, discussing new theories over tea—you sitting in your chair with your leg propped over the side laughing about silly things or discussing the more serious topics of endocrine disruption, someone’s new scientific study and, of course, the fracking industry and its systemic effects on environmental and human health through the misuse of chemicals.

    When we met years ago, you put me through a rigorous test to ensure I was capable, which allowed me to demonstrate that I could protect and assist you and your work for the greatest positive social change. Somehow I passed that test and am forever grateful just for the opportunity—let alone the years we shared afterward working together.

    Ever since I was a young boy, Carl Sagan’s research and humanitarian brilliance tucked me into bed at night via Cosmos. Although I never met Carl, he was my most influential mentor until I met you. You both shared the tenacity of truth, a way of exploring facts without personal bias and without giving up on the journey. You imparted a deep sense of faculty in uncovering the truth and using it to protect our environment and those who are naturally determined to thrive in it.

    As one of many leaders in the anti-fracking-turned-civil-rights movement, your scientific studies were at the tip of every spear used by grassroots organizations to arm themselves with the best science available regarding air chemistry near fracking industry operations.
    I cited your research at hundreds of public presentations nationwide and recall that when I gave lectures on fracking, you would send me a note that read “Knock their socks off, Shane…”

    I enjoyed every bit of work I did with you, Theo, and am honored to have helped you in any small way that I could. But far more importantly, I learned that “deep inside everyone, there is something bigger and stronger than we are aware of at this time that cannot be suppressed by man-made chemicals—something that will prompt some very exceptional leadership to step forward with the courage to turn off corporate control of the government and the world and take back for society what it needs to thrive.”

    As Carl Sagan said, “We are all made of star stuff.” But you, Theo, are made of the finest star stuff the universe has ever created—you are a universal treasure.

    I will always see you in the stars.

    Shane Davis
    www.fractivist.org




  10. Dolores Romano:
    Dec 18, 2014 at 10:11 AM

    Thank you Theo and the TEDX team for inspiring and supporting NGOs all around the world in our fight against endocrine disrupters.

    Yesterday we remembered you during the conferences on endocrine disruption we gave for students of toxicology and of nursery of the Universities of Alicante and of Elche in Spain.

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