Consumer groups are urging the European Commission to implement the 'precautionary principle' into EU rules on endocrine-disrupting chemicals, in order to secure safety as additional research underlines the potential harms of too much exposure to the chemicals.
Recently, endocrine-disrupting chemicals and their potential risks have received more attention in the EU and the Commission will later this year publish a new strategy on the issue.
However, consumer organisations say that the EU legislation continues to be running behind time regarding the chemicals and their affects on consumers.
Known examples of endocrine-disrupting chemicals include phthalates (a plastic-softener), brominated flame retardants (often used in household textile or furniture) and metals like lead and mercury.
Some endocrine-disrupting chemicals occur naturally, while synthetic varieties can be found in pesticides, electronics, personal care products and cosmetics. They can also be found as additives or contaminants in food.
Christophe Rousselle, representing the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety, said at a panel discussion in Brussels on 25 June, organised by the European Consumers' Organisation (BEUC), that at the moment it is difficult for public agencies and risk assessors to know in which products chemical compounds are used and the concentration.
Risk assessors need this information in order to have a sound, risk-based approach. He added that this makes it even more difficult to predict 'cocktail-effects'.
"It's important to take combined exposure and effects into account, especially with endocrine disruptors. There's a lot of knowledge that's still missing. It's important to be able to identify the synergies between endocrine disruptors," Rousselle said.
Silvia Maurer, safety and environment senior policy officer at BEUC, argued that was the reason for insisting on the precautionary principle to be kept in as a guiding point in EU legislation on product safety.
Some health campaigners have called for a ban on more than 800 chemical substances to fulfil a precautionary principle for the benefit of consumers.
Pavel Poc, Czech MEP from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, said that even though the idea is good, it would be impossible to carry out. Instead, he urged health campaigners to invite consumers to the debates as their support is needed.
"If we don't have more stakeholder meetings with the public, we won't reach anything. Regarding the Commission … Everything is going too slow," Poc said.
Bertil Heerink, director-general of Cosmetics Europe, said his sector is one of the few strong ones in Europe, bigger than in the US and Japan combined.
The sector's ambition is to keep it that way, but this can only be done through consumer trust which the industry will keep through a more science-based approach to ensure consumer safety.
"For us, science is the engine for innovation and we have a very innovative sector and that is also the reason why we are still so successful."
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.
Autumn 2013: Commission to publish new strategy on endocrine disruptors