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2nd Jul 2022

Industry delayed EU regulation of toxic chemicals

  • EDCs used in baby bottles have been banned (Photo: Valentina Pop)

A report out on Wednesday (20 May) shows how industry lobbied EU institutions to kill regulation on possible toxic chemicals used in everyday products.

Drafted by Brussels-based Corporate Europe Observatory and by French journalist Stephane Horel, it shows how big chemical trade associations and firms managed to prevent restrictions from being imposed on endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).

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EDCs, which can interfere with hormonal systems, are often found in pesticides, plastics, cosmetics, computers, and construction materials.

The EU banned an EDC known as bisphenol A (BPA) from being used in baby bottles in 2011 because of the risks.

Nina Holland, CEO campaigner and co-author of the report, said they obtained hundreds of documents released by the European Commission following freedom of information requests.

“[It] show unambiguously how science is being manipulated to defend vested interests, manufacture doubt and delay a pioneering regulation", she said.

The affair kicked off in 2009 when the DG Environment at the European Commission launched an independent study to probe EDC toxicology on humans.

The resulting report, which took a critical view on EDCs, prompted the DG to start laying the groundwork for future EU-wide rules.

The conclusions of the report and the DG’s moves provoked attacks in 2012 from the US-based chemical corporations, British and German authorities, and from inside the commission itself.

The director-general of DG Sanco, the commission's health and safety department, headed at the time by Paola Testori Coggi, is said to have sidelined DG Environment and initiated another study by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) which came out with different conclusions.

One EFSA scientist, in an email, describes his embarrassment over the new report on EDCs because it contradicted another report by the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

“It is almost embarrassing to compare our current draft report with the WHO-UNEP report. The issues the WHO-UNEP report highlight and takes out as being specific for [endocrine disruptors], we in our report are trying to down-play or even avoid,” notes the email.

The WHO-UNEP report, published in early 2013, concluded that EDCs were a “global threat that needs to be resolved”.

For its part, the European Parliament had by then issued its own report, which backed the conclusions originally obtained by DG Environment.

The industry, including chemical giant Bayer, initiated delay tactics in late 2013 by requesting the European Commission to conduct a 12-month impact assessment.

They lobbied DG Sanco, Enterprise and Trade, and also the commission’s secretary general.

Next they targeted the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

On the US side, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), CropLife America (CLA), the American Chamber of Commerce in Brussels, lobbied against imposing any further regulatory restrictions on the chemicals in TTIP.

A German toxicologist along with around 50 scientists also opposed the DG Environment survey on EDCs in a letter written to the commission’s chief scientific adviser Anne Glover in June 2013.

Around 30 of the signatories had ties to the industry. Three of them – also with industry ties - worked at EFSA.

A rebuttal published in Endocrine Society journal and signed by over 100 scientists described the German letter as “a profound disservice” to public health.

But around a month after receiving the German letter, Catherine Day, the EU commission's secretary general, decided an impact assessment study was needed.

“With this decision to launch an impact assessment, the secretary general had single-handedly thrown a monkey wrench in DG Environment’s work on EDCs,” notes the CEO paper.

The report notes that, as a result, the scientific criteria to define EDCs will not be ready before 2017.

“That is four years after the legal deadline set by the [EU] parliament.”

The European Crop Protection Association, which represents the pesticides industry, in a statement said it takes the issue of endocrine disruption seriously and found CEO's report one-side and unbalanced.

"Our industry has repeatedly stated that it has no interest in delaying this process. We are eager to move quickly beyond the current interim criteria in place towards a more predictable regulatory process," it said.

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