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17th Nov 2018

Doctors and NGOs slam EU bill on hormone disruptors

  • The EDC-free Europe coalition protested outside the European Commission's headquarters on Monday (13 June). (Photo: EDC-free Europe)

The European Commission took its time to regulate endocrine disruptors, chemicals widely used in industry that experts believe can increase the risk of cancer, obesity and other health problems. The EU executive was due to present the proposal two and a half years ago.

But the text, which was finally put out on Wednesday (15 June), fell well short of the expectations of doctors and civil society.

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Some 800 chemicals that are known or suspected to interfere with hormone receptors are found in a wide range of everyday products - from toys to computer keyboards, electrical cables and shopping receipts.

According to the Endocrine Society, the oldest and largest organisation of scientists and doctors caring for people with hormone-related conditions, more than 1,300 studies that have tied exposure to these substances to diabetes, obesity, infertility, bone disease, cancer and neurological disorders.

Commission admits 'mistake'

The EU already has regulations for the use of other types of chemicals. But it is lacking a system for classification of endocrine disruptors.

Health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis proposed bringing endocrine disruptors under the regulation of two existing laws - one covering plant protection, the other regulating "biocidal" substances such as rat poison and disinfectant.

"The scientific criteria presented today guarantee that we maintain the high level of protection of human health and of the environment which is set in our legislation on plant protection and biocidal products, some of the strictest in the world,” said Andriukaitis.

But the proposal received a cold reception from the Endocrine Society as well as EDC-free Europe, a coalition of 65 public interest groups. The two said the criteria for including endocrine disruptors set the bar so high that only a few chemicals would fall into the scope of EU regulation.

Lisette van Vliet from the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), a member of EDC-free Europe, condemned the commission for requiring that a substance must be ”known to cause” adverse health effects before it can be classified as an endocrine disruptor.

”The previous acts had only required that a substance ’may’ cause such effects,” Van Vliet said.

Ake Bergman, a member of the Endocrine Society, said such a benchmark would be all but impossible to attain. ”No other legislation requires such strict causality. That’s not the way cancer legislation works, for instance,” Bergman told EUobserver.

Van Vliet was also worried that the commission had twisted the WHO’s definition of endocrine disruptors by saying in its press materials that they were substances that had an adverse effect on human health.

The WHO does not limit its definition to human health, but speaks in general of organisms, as well as their progeny and sub-populations.

A commission spokesman said there was a ”mistake” in its press release, which oversimplified the definition to highlight the commission’s concern for human health.

The commission’s legislative proposals mention both organisms and human health, the official noted. A technical expert clarified that the commission is also concerned about the wider environment.

Greens rally against 'shameful' bill

Doctors and NGOs said the commission had opened the door to the use of banned substances in plant protection products, by saying that derogations would be allowed when the risk of exposure to humans was negligible, for instance, when the substances were used in laboratory environments.

The commission said the exception was motivated by the need to protect scientific research.

”Science has evolved a lot since the plant product regulation was adopted in 2009,” a commission spokeswoman said.

Neither scientists nor NGOs were convinced by her argument.

The commission was due to present a proposal for criteria to determine endocrine disruptors in 2013. Sweden sued the EU executive in 2014 for failing to do so and won the case in 2015.

According to French journalist Stephane Horel, the commission dragged its feet in order to protect the chemical industry. Horel, in cooperation with transparency watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory, published a report in May 2015 mapping the industry’s lobbying campaign.

The long overdue regulation may now take additional time to come into place.

French socialist MEPs sent out a statement on Wednesday saying the proposal needs to be altered. The Green group’s health spokesman, Bas Eickhout, said he would rally his colleagues to veto the ”shameful” bill.

Focus

EU adopts hormone disruptor norms

A European Commission proposal on how to define endocrine disruptors was voted through on Tuesday, after a year of blockage. A French turn-around allowed the decision.

Analysis

Endocrine legislation could be delayed years after veto

MEPs last week blocked the European Commission's proposal to define hormone-disrupting chemicals, saying it did not go far enough to protect human health. They may inadvertently have kicked EU legislation on the matter into the next parliamentary term.

EU to review animal welfare strategy

European Court of Auditors found there were "still some significant discrepancies between the animal welfare standards established in the EU legislation and the reality on the ground".

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