The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
From 2003 to 2019, TEDX produced and shared scientific evidence of endocrine disruption with nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and the public. Although we are no longer operating, our website resources will remain available until September, 2022.

Theo Colborn, 1927–2014


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. 

Comments (87)

  1. Carol Kane:
    Dec 17, 2014 at 04:20 PM

    Theo touched so many lives by her passion, intellect, and caring generous spirit. In the late 80s and 90s, I luckily encountered Theo many days in the lunchroom of WWF/CF. As we warmed and prepared our meals, she gently and persuasively educated me about many of these chemical dangers that we all accept as fact today. She was on the research side and knew about what she spoke. I listened and took it not only to heart but into practice. A day does not go by that I don't heed her warnings and counsel. The use of plastics in microwaves was a primary concern of the day and I follow her advice. For years I have proudly told my girls about my lunchtime lessons from this wonderful researcher who opened my eyes. What a blessing she was to all of us and our future generations. Thank you Theo.

  2. John Jackson:
    Dec 17, 2014 at 12:33 PM

    We in the Great Lakes were so fortunate to have Theo focus much of her energy on health issues in the Great Lakes. The research that she drew together that led to a new understanding of the threats and impacts of endocrine disruptors came from the work of many scientists studying the Great Lakes basin. She spent much of her time in the Great Lakes basin spreading the word, helping set the agenda, and inspiring so many of us. She served on the IJC’s Ecosystem Health workgroup of its Science Advisory Board for 14 years. Through this work she helped set the agenda for the Great Lakes. And from here her messages spread throughout the world. Recently, she focussed much of her energy on waking people up to the health problems associated with fracking. Two years ago she was the main presenter on a webinar that Great Lakes United held on fracking; over two hundred people participated.
    I know that many of you remember profound times with Theo.
    I was so fortunate to be on the advisory committee for her “Great Lakes. Great Legacy?” project in the 1980s and to be part of the meetings she held to strategize on how to confront the problem. This project developed into “Our Stolen Future” published in 1996.
    Whenever we at Great Lakes United called upon her, she was sure to appear and bring her inspiration.
    A few of her traits that are such an inspiration were:
    • she was a scientist with an amazing ability to synthesize the research of others to come to new understandings of the implications of their findings for all life;
    • she recognized the need to spread her findings and to strategize with activists to stimulate a movement to solve the problems the scientists were finding;
    • she had an amazing ability to spread the word without over simplifying the science;
    • she had an astonishing strength to stand up against industries efforts to destroy her; in recognition of this trait, In These Times recently titled an interview with her “Nemesis of the Chemical Giants;”
    • despite her fame, Theo was a humble friend to so many of us. She always saw us activists as essential co-workers in our shared missions.

    John Jackson
    Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

  3. Lea Harvey:
    Dec 17, 2014 at 11:38 AM

    I met Theo in the early days of my fundraising career at World Wildlife Fund. In her I encountered a passionate, committed crusader, as well as a treasured teacher and colleague. I was honored to work with her to secure support for her vitally important research and outreach on endocrine disruptors and chemicals policy. Our travels together took us from WWF headquarters in Washington, DC to the homes of generous individuals living with multi-chemical sensitivity who saw hope for others in Theo's work and to other venues as diverse as Bay Area bookstores and a gathering of National Basketball Association wives. It was remarkable to watch her move with ease and share her message with audiences across the country.

    When I think about the trajectory of Theo's career, and the choice she made to pursue her PhD later in life (when most are ready for a rocking chair), and what she accomplished after doing so, I am deeply inspired. In addition to her contributions to science and policy, she is a role model of a life well lived. The world is a better place as a result of her having been here.

  4. Michelle Bamberger:
    Dec 17, 2014 at 10:56 AM

    I first learned of Theo's work at the same time that I learned of unconventional extraction of oil and gas, and the potential health impacts associated with this process. I first spoke to Theo just after our first paper came out, to ask about her experiences with illness in animals living nearby unconventional operations. That was nearly three years ago. I remember that Theo was excited that a veterinarian was tackling these issues, and she encouraged and advised me to continue on with our research. Her work inspires and motivates us to do just that.

  5. Pete Myers:
    Dec 17, 2014 at 09:11 AM

    Theo first burst into my life in 1988 when I speculated in a lecture in Washington DC about how pesticides might be disrupting the migratory orientation of sanderling, causing their population to fall. When I finished she rushed up from the back of the room, hugged me and said "Pete, we have to work together." Little did I realize at the time I had met a force of nature that would profoundly affect the rest of my life. Two years later I became director of the W. Alton Jones Foundation and created a Senior Fellow position for her that made that collaboration possible.

    What a wild ride! From Wingspread to Our Stolen Future and beyond. I learned so much from her and from the network of scientists she knit together. She was the master knitter, not just of scientists into networks but also of disparate knowledge into a coherent theory of endocrine disruption. Theo found real scientific patterns where people accustomed to staying in their scientific silos only saw randomness, at best.

    Her ability to recall tiny but crucial scientific details from just about any paper she'd ever read was extraordinary. Somehow that attention to detail was matched with an ability to rise up to 30,000 ft and pick out sweeping patterns. I don't think I've ever met any other scientist who was so strong simultaneously at both those usually mutually-exclusive skills.

    Courageous in the face of adversity, cruel attack and innuendo, she was also tenacious in her pursuit of science.

    Theo also had an extraordinary nose for brewing trouble. Long before fracking became a national issue, she called me one day to describe what was happening in the gas fields burgeoning on the western slope of Colorado. She was the first scientist I heard raise health concerns about fracking. Dianne Dumanoski and I went out to visit her and see it first hand. See it we did, up close and personal. Dianne even became ill and had trouble breathing, affected by some of the gases volatilizing from evaporation ponds. Theo became a mentor for many others, in Colorado and Pennsylvania concerned about what was happening in their backyards.

    I visited Theo in Paonia in early October, just over two months ago. Her body was frail. She knowingly faced the future with calm and grace. Her mind, ever sharp, kept pushing for more and better science, and for the federal government, especially President Obama, to act on all that we have learned about endocrine disruption over the past two decades.

    That was and is her charge to all of us who have benefitted so greatly from her contributions. We must heed her charge. We owe it to her and to generations that follow, so there won't be so many stolen futures.

    Thank you, Theo.

  6. Genon Jensen:
    Dec 17, 2014 at 09:01 AM

    I am thinking fondly of my time in Paonia a few years ago, when I finally got to met Theo at her house, and she baked some cookies for us. And just how much I admired her at that moment.

    Theo was an unfortgettable spirit, who planted so many seeds across the globe that are now blossoming in a truly beautiful EDC free planet… How I admired and was inspired by her.

    Genon Jensen

  7. Roz Mortimer:
    Dec 17, 2014 at 04:46 AM

    Theo welcomed me into her home in 2005 when I was working on a film about hormone disrupters. In between our long discussions which were spread over several days, she cooked me dinners and drove me up into the mountains which she loved to show me the Aspen forests and colonies of beavers. Our recorded conversations became the template for my subsequent film, Invisble in which Theo explains about the dangers of endocrine disrupting chemicals and talks about her fears for the future. Meeting and working with Theo was an inspiring and enlightening experience. She was uncompromising and unwavering in her persuit of the truth.

  8. Peter Reijnders:
    Dec 17, 2014 at 03:26 AM

    Dear dr. Kwiatkowski,
    May I convey my condolences regarding the passing away of Theo Colborn, to you as representative of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange organisation. It is indeed a great loss that Theo passed away, albeit her troublesome fragile health of the last years may mitigate to some extent the grieve.
    I have very good memories of Theo, working with her already form the start of her activities focussing on perturbation of the developing endocrine system by toxic compounds, both in humans and wildlife. My participation on her request in the workshop at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine in 1991, is still fresh in my memory. I particularly very much admire her never ceasing motivation and determination to strive for recognition of the dormant threat of Endocrine Disruptors. Her enthusiasm and tenacity has been and still is an inspiring source for myself and many other people, scientists as well as the general public. With great pleasure I contributed to the book she co-edited, which was based on that Wingspread Work Session (published by Princeton in 1992 as Volume XXI in their series on advances in toxicology).
    It is good to see that the TEDX is continuing her pioneering endeavours and much value that. A better tribute to her work will be hard to find.

    With kind regards, and please pass on my condolences to her family,

    Peter Reijnders

    prof.dr.ir. Peter J.H. Reijnders
    Marine Mammal Ecology & Management
    IMARES, Institute for Marine Resources & Ecosystem Studies
    dept. Ecosystems
    Aquatic Ecology & Water Quality Group, Wageningen University

    P.O. Box 167, 1790 AD Den Burg, The Netherlands
    Visiting address: Landsdiep 4, ‘t Horntje, Texel, The Netherlands
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  9. Gary Timm:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 10:32 PM

    Meeting and working with Theo was one of the high points of my career at EPA. I had the good fortune of being assigned to work with the Endocrine Disruptor Screening and Testing Advisory Committee (EDSTAC). The Committee and the legislation underlying EPA's mandate to test chemicals for their potential to disrupt the endocrine system would never have happened without Theo's tireless efforts to convince Congress that this was a serious issue that needed to be addressed. Despite her gentle demeanor, Theo was fearless and formidable in arguing her point of view, and EDSTAC's ambitious recommendations reflected her efforts. While the law focused only on estrogenic chemicals, Theo and others quickly convinced other Committee members that the androgen and thyroid systems were also being affected by chemicals in the environment and should be the subject of testing. I was pleased that I had a long and warm working relationship with Theo as she decided to continue working with EPA by serving on the committee that advised EPA on the validation of the test methods recommended by EDSTAC. Theo will be remembered fondly by all who knew her.

  10. Robin McClellan:
    Dec 16, 2014 at 09:15 PM

    I had the amazing good fortune to meet Theo when she was getting her PhD at UW-Madison. We were both grad students in the Zoology department there and we became friends. I was seeing a woman in her lab and we even double dated once…with the Secretary of State of Wisconsin. What I remember about her was, first and foremost, that she was always laughing or smiling, no matter whether it was talking about her work on the uptake of Cadmium by Cladocera or tales of life as a sheep farmer. She was passionate about her research and her life, but it never took the smile from her face.

    In 1984 or 85, she got her PhD and I gave up on my Masters. She ended up in Washington, DC and I returned to the St. Lawrence River region, but we often ran into each other at Great Lakes meetings. No matter what she was doing, she always made time to get together and reminisce.

    Today, as I struggle with what I’m going to be if I grow up, I think about Theo. She was only 3 years younger than I am now when she got her doctorate and went on to change the world. I know I won’t have the same impact that she had, but she is an inspiring reminder that you don’t have to be young to be a revolutionary.

    Thank you, Theo, for all you’ve done for me and the world. We will never be the same!

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