Endocrine disruptors: Harmful or not?

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Rising levels of cancers and fertility problems have attracted scientists’ attention to endocrine disrupting chemicals, with some calling for strict regulation of the substances, in line with the precautionary principle. Others meanwhile, stress the worthiness of those chemicals in everyday products such as plastics and warn that the foundations of science risk being turned upside down if precautionary measures are taken.

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Overview

Endocrine disruptors are chemical substances that are suspected of triggering diseases such as cancer or diabetes and contributing to people becoming overweight or infertile through changes to the endocrine (or hormone) system.

The controversy has gone beyond the traditional confrontation between the chemicals industry and environmental and health activists.

Among scientists, too, opinions vary on whether a link exists between these chemicals and diseases. But all parties agree on one point, that the protection of consumers and the environment must be ensured.

The European Union has been at the forefront of efforts to regulate those substances, for example by banning the use of Bisphenol A in baby bottles, or trying to reduce the amount of pesticides used by farmers.

Most importantly, EU lawmakers adopted in 2006 the REACH regulation, which for the first time requested chemical producers to prove that their products are safe before they can be allowed on the market.

The European Commission has now started a review of endocrine disruptors and is expected to submit proposals in 2015 on how to identify and regulate substances with endocrine disruptive properties in products such as pesticides and biocides.

But this is no easy task for regulators, who are torn between the precautionary principle and their promise to root decision-making in rock-solid scientific evidence.

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Comments

ekpe Isreal's picture

how can its effect be reduced

evad666's picture

Endocrine disruptors: Harmful or not? only on such a pro eu forum would you see this.
Fish are used to monitor water quality at sewage work outfalls how many fish have changed sex?

PaulT's picture

I am an environmental scientist of many years experience and would like to point to the prejudice that 'chemicals are bad' and little fact-based discussion.

In the 1980's, scientists talked of oestrogen inhibitors, as they were looking at chemicals that impacted on the ovaries and the foetus. By 2001, they were discussing pseudo-oestrogens and had discovered that oestrogens had activity on not only the ovaries but over 140 other sites. It is now so complicated as it is known that there are few simple yes/no answers: a chemical may have negative effects on some sites and positive effects on others. Hence the need for good discussion to establish reliable criteria and tests.

Fish are not routinely used to monitor treated sewage outfalls, although fish are studied in rivers downstream. Yes, there a effects on fish, suspected to be from, e.g. oral contraceptives, which do not have the same effects on humans. I suggest a move to ban of these contraceptives would not be popular!

Unfortunately, the current scepticism about chemicals, in particular attributing obesity and diabetes to trace chemicals ignores the 1:1 correlation of obesity and Type II diabetes with over-eating and bad diet. There will be a far greater correlation of obesity and type II diabetes with (fructose) glucose syrup used in most mass-produced foods and drinks than with endocrine disruptors.

Finally, some cancers are age-related and all are now subject to far better testing and diagnosis, so 'increases in cancer' may be related to an aging population or better diagnosis.

Yes, chemicals require good and better regulation, but please let's have science-based discussion. And that should include better public funding of research in such areas and less reliance on industry-funded research.

evad666's picture

Totally agree with the need for a science based discussion and a lower reliance on industry funded research coupled with less political spin .