The EU Will Finally Take Action on Harmful Chemicals. Is it Enough?

After almost two years of deliberation, the E.U. will issue new frameworks for identifying and restricting endocrine-disrupting chemicals in plant protection products and biocides — but campaign groups warn it is not enough. 

Scientific research has established that certain chemicals found in biocides and plant care products, as well as household paints and other goods, can pose a risk to our health.

That’s because these substances, known as endocrine disruptors, change the hormonal states in our bodies. Research has shown that there can be resulting developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune system effects. In some cases, this exposure has been linked to loss of fertility in both men and women, a condition in women called endometriosis, higher rates of obesity and higher rates of certain cancers.

Historically, the agriculture industry has defended use of such biocides, insisting that there is no concrete proof they pose a risk to human health at normal concentrations. However, health advocates and scientists have fought back. They contend that many substances posing a similar risk are already banned in the EU.

As a result, for the past two years, the European Union has worked to formulate new regulations that will prevent exposure risk. The two draft frameworks, published June 15, aim to provide set criteria that will enable agencies to identify endocrine disruptors and the levels that pose a risk to human health.

 The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker explained:

Endocrine disruptors can have serious health and environmental impacts and even if many substances containing them are already banned as a result of existing legislation on pesticides and biocides, we have to remain vigilant. The Commission is committed to ensuring the highest level of protection of both human health and the environment, which is why we are today putting forward strict criteria for endocrine disrupters – based on science – making the EU regulatory system the first worldwide to define such scientific criteria in legislation.

The central aim of these texts is to integrate current World Health Organization data on endocrine disruptors with the complex scientific and regulatory issues surrounding these substances. The end result will be clear guidelines for relevant agencies to use in identifying harmful levels of exposure

The publication of these draft criteria also comes with pledges from the Commission to do more to minimize endocrine disruptors through short term actions, like international cooperation and research, and long-term regulatory frameworks.

European member states must agree to the proposals before they can be adopted, and that will likely result in strong debates on both sides. However, scientists who have worked on the endocrine problem have blasted this action as entirely underwhelming.

The Guardian reports:

Professor Andreas Kortenkamp, a human toxicologist who has authored past endocrine studies for the European commission, said: “The WHO definition is not a criteria, it is just a definition. In effect, the commission has decided to place the burden of deciding how to regulate endocrine-disrupting chemicals onto the assessors on a case-by-case basis.”

Kortenkamp says that in practice, this approach will lead to a constantly moving threshold for what is and isn’t an endocrine-disrupting substance, meaning that the regulatory framework becomes seriously undermined.

The toxicologist is not the only one to criticize these proposals.

Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout told Parliament:

Not only has the Commission proposed a very restrictive definition of what constitutes an endocrine disruptor, it has also proposed wider exemptions for them. In doing so, it both breaks with established practices of classification of similar chemicals and goes beyond it legal mandate. Instead of learning the lessons of the European court ruling against it, the Commission has compounded the damage of delaying action on chemical substances that interfere with the endocrine system by proposing weak measures for dealing with them.

The European Commission insists that this does not break with its stated principles of cautious regulation. However, it is undeniable that the framework appears to allow exemptions to be carved into current bans on endocrine disruptors, potentially weakening safeguards that are already in place.

Somewhat ironically, these proposals have not even pleased the agricultural sector. Some in the industry argue that the vague language and potential for tighter regulations will create an untenable position for producers of plant protection products.

Companies that do back tighter regulations, including some plastics makers and furniture retailers, have similarly expressed doubts that these regulations add up to meaningful action.

The commission argues that it will continue to allow these regulations to evolve within the scientific consensus, but campaigners claim that these draft proposals represent a serious weakening of the commission’s ambitions for regulating endocrine disruptors.

While, ultimately, experts seem to believe there may be some positive regulations to come out of the proposed frameworks, public health advocates are disappointed that the commission appears to have set the bar so low.

Photo Credit: Global Justice Now/Flickr

46 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohn2 years ago

Noted

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Teresa Antela
Teresa Antela2 years ago

I also agree with Anne Moran

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Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran2 years ago

two years to get the ball rolling? pathetic.

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Patricia Harris
John Taylor2 years ago

Anne Moran, is correct!

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Muff-Anne York-Haley

It's a start!

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Lisa M.
Lisa M2 years ago

Nope.

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Anne Moran
Anne M2 years ago

Until all chemicals are eradicated for good,, it will never be enough...

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Nina S.
Nina S2 years ago

tyfs

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Emma L.
Past Member 2 years ago

Thank you!

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