Rising levels of cancer along with increasing brain, thyroid and reproductive problems have led an international group of scientists to call for tougher EU regulation on some chemicals used in everyday life.
Eighty-nine leading public health scientists from around the world have signed the 2013 Berlaymont Declaration on endocrine disruptors.
The declaration, named after the European Commission's flagship Berlaymont building in Brussels, explains that the Europe-wide rate of increase in endocrine-related diseases cannot be explained by genetics or lifestyle choices alone.
“A major problem is that for many endocrine disrupting effects, internationally agreed and validated test methods do not exist, although scientific tools and laboratory methods are available,” said Professor Susan Jobling from Brunel University in the United Kingdom.
“For a large range of human health effects, viable laboratory methods are missing altogether. This seriously hampers progress in understanding the full risks,” she explained.
Research has shown that chemicals commonly used in thousands of different products – including flame retardants, pesticides and many types of plastics – have some effect on the human endocrine system.
Scientists are increasingly concerned that people’s exposure to these chemicals, both singly and in combination with others, may be contributing to high and rising levels of serious disease.
“The proposals we have seen for regulating endocrine-disrupting chemicals do not follow the best available scientific advice and place commercial interests above the protection of human and wildlife health," Jobling said.
"I and my colleagues are calling on the Commission to implement a regulatory regime for endocrine disrupting chemicals that is based on sound scientific principles,” the professor added.
EU chemicals regulation 'inadequate'
The declaration says that internationally accepted test methods that have been available for many years have yet to be implemented in the EU. It says that current EU chemicals regulations are "entirely inadequate" for identifying endocrine disrupting chemicals.
The signatories say that current regulations stating that low levels of exposure to these chemicals is safe, ignore the possibility that many endocrine disruptors may act without thresholds, causing disruption at any concentration.
As well as action to control the use of chemicals, the declaration also calls for a targeted endocrine disruptor research programme, focusing on exposure assessments and the identification of substances with endocrine disrupting properties, assay development to create laboratory models, and further research in support of human health studies.
“Although uncertainties remain, Commission-funded research has greatly contributed to substantiating the plausibility of serious, irreversible harm stemming from endocrine disruptors,” said Professor Åke Bergman from Stockholm University in Sweden.
“Scientific uncertainty should therefore not delay regulatory action.”
The declaration has been presented to Antonio Tajani, vice president of the Commission, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy Tonio Borg, Commissioner for Research Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn and Commissioner for the Environment Janez Poto?nik.
Lisette van Vliet, senior policy advisor at Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) said:
“The Declaration is the latest and perhaps most pointed expression that scientific experts have made for urgent and comprehensive regulatory action. It is explicit about the need for a regulatory regime that classifies endocrine disruptors in a scientifically sound manner. It is also categorical about the need to update the testing requirements of various laws, without which it says our endocrine disruptors regulation will fail. How much louder and clearer do our top scientists have to be before the EU acts to protect public health? We hope the EU Commissioners fully take these points on board in their upcoming decisions on the EU Strategy for endocrine disruptors and on criteria to identify them, as well as in the review of how the REACH law treats endocrine disruptors.”
Human health depends on a well-functioning endocrine system to regulate the release of certain hormones that are essential for functions such as metabolism, growth and development, sleep and mood.
Some substances known as endocrine disruptors can alter the function(s) of this hormonal system increasing the risk of adverse health effects.
Some endocrine disrupting chemicals occur naturally, while synthetic varieties can be found in pesticide, electronics, personal care products and cosmetics. They can also be found as additives or contaminants in food.
- Environment: Endocrine disruptors website