Endocrine disruptors: European regions call for reliable information and a strategy to protect citizens and the environment  

Two months after the European Parliament resolution on the negative impact of a number of chemicals used in food and cosmetics production in the EU, local and regional representatives have called on the European Commission to provide a higher level of protection from hazardous chemicals. According to studies, endocrine disruptors, or EDCs, have a harmful effect on the work of the body's hormones, leading to infertility, obesity and cancers . In children, they are increasingly linked to autism and other conditions.

Given that the local and regional authorities are responsible for health services in most EU Member States they are also obliged to attend to the well-being of their populations and take position regarding EDC. According to the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), the European Commission's response to EDC does not deal adequately with health risks and does not provide a sufficiently solid framework to treat these chemical across all EU laws. There is no concrete action plan or timetable to achieve progress in this area. The rapporteur for the opinion Towards a comprehensive EU framework on endocrine disruptors , Uno Silberg (EE/EA) stressed the need for preventive action.

"Endocrine disruptors have a devastating long-term impact not only on human health but also on fauna and flora. While their presence is widespread, there is very little public awareness of the risks they pose. We need action to raise public awareness and coordinated measures at all levels to give priority to the health of citizens, while at the same time taking into account the interests of consumers and industry", stressed the Leader of Kose Municipal Council.

There are currently around 800 chemicals that interfere with the activities of hormones or are suspected to do so. Available research shows that the annual health costs of endocrine disruptors amount to EUR 163 billion (1.28% of the EU's GDP). EDCs are commonly found in cans and food storage bags and in plastic film or packaging. They can also be found in toys, cosmetics, food containers, pesticides and even in furniture.

The opinion stresses that reliable information on the risks and impact of EDCs should be made available to European citizens in an appropriate form and in accessible language. At the same time, it is proposed to introduce a new updated definition of endocrine disruptors.

Local and regional elected representatives call for an increase in resources for independent, publicly funded research on endocrine disruptors and non-harmful substitutes for them, as well as other innovative solutions. At the same time, they draw attention to the potential conflict between the protection of citizens and the functioning of profit-making companies.

The CoR points out that endocrine disruptors should be considered to be substances that do not have a 'safe threshold', which means that any exposure to such substances may pose a threat, particularly during critical phases of development (foetal, post-natal and puberty). Very little is also known about their combined effect.

Background

Endocrine disruptors (EDCs) are chemicals that alter the functioning of the endocrine system and have a negative impact on human and animal health. These substances may be synthetic or natural. Exposure to them can come from a variety of sources, such as pesticide residues or consumer products that are used or present in everyday life. Exposure to these substances can cause cancer, obesity, diabetes, a decline in intelligence, impaired motor skills, a weakening of learning skills and infertility.

Endocrine disruptors are found in such things as food packaging, skin care products, cosmetics, building materials, electronic devices, furniture and flooring and toys. In order to protect fruit and vegetable crops, these substances are added to the pesticides and herbicides used for spraying.

The reason for the growing interest in EDCs is the alarming increase in the incidence in humans of diseases which endocrine disorders can play a significant role in causing, as well as the observation of endocrine disorders in animals used as test subjects that are exposed to substances in the environment.

At EU level, discussions on EDCs started as long ago as 1996. Following the adoption by the European Parliament in 1998 of its resolution on endocrine disruptors, in December 1999 the Commission adopted a Community Strategy for endocrine disruptors , which was implemented through actions in the fields of research, regulation and international cooperation. In July 2018, the EU executive published a new strategy to combat the impact of endocrine disruptors. A study was also launched on the current legislation in this area. The European Parliament referred to the strategy, adopting resolutions (2019/2683 (RSP) calling for the establishment of a "comprehensive European Union framework on endocrine disruptors".

The EU has supported research into endocrine disruptors. It has funded more than 50 projects, for which over EUR 150 million came from the various research and innovation framework programmes. A further EUR 52 million has been allocated under Horizon 2020 to research and screening projects.

The EU has also taken regulatory action to protect people and the environment from the impact of endocrine disruptors. In particular, legislation in the areas of pesticides and biocides , chemicals in general (the REACH regulation) , medical devices and water has included specific provisions for dealing with endocrine disruptors. Furthermore, when it comes to materials that will come in contact with food , cosmetics , toys and protection of workers in the workplace, substances with endocrine-disrupting properties have been the subject of individual regulatory actions. As a result, many substances with endocrine-disrupting properties have been banned or exposure to them has been reduced to a minimum insofar as this is technically and practically feasible.

Additional information

Contact:

Wioletta Wojewódzka

tel. +32 2 282 22 89

wioletta.wojewodzka@cor.europa.eu