The EU should act to reduce exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals, the European Parliament said in adopting Swedish MEP Åsa Westlund’s recommendation to list those as "substances of very high concern" under the REACH chemicals regulation.
Endocrine disruptors have been linked to increase in cases of impaired sperm quality, early onset of puberty, certain cancers and other disorders.
MEPs said current EU rules should be examined with a view to updating or proposing new legislation to regulate those substances by June 2015 at the latest.
The resolution was adopted yesterday (14 March) in Strasbourg by 489 votes to 102, with 19 abstentions. It is legally non-binding, meaning that it does not introduce new obligations on companies or EU member states.
"This report aims to identify the way forward on how we should handle the issue of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. I want to make it clear that the time for political action has come," said Westlund (Socialists and Democrats).
Potential endocrine disruptors include substances such as steroid hormones, some pesticides, dioxins, and plastic additives, the Parliament said.
And while question marks remain over how those substances end up in humans, MEPs said legislative action should be taken quickly to protect human health, especially in vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and infants.
"Even if we do not have all the answers, we do know enough to regulate these substances in accordance with the precautionary principle," the resolution said.
Endocrine disruptors should be treated as "substances of very high concern" in the EU's REACH law, which regulates chemicals, the MEPs said.
Given the increase in hormone-related disorders over the past 20 years, MEPs urge increased investment in research and call on the European Commission to propose criteria to define and assess endocrine disruptors.
Monique Goyens, director general of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), told EURACTIV that the vote sends a "strong signal" that more must be done to effectively lower exposure to these hazardous chemicals for consumers and the environment.
"It is encouraging that the European Parliament decided to lead on hormone disrupting chemicals. The ball is now in the court of the European Commission to propose clear steps to adequately protect consumers," Goyens said.
The Health and Environment Alliance agreed. “The vote mirrors the implications of a recent World Health Organization and United Nations Environment Programme report, which clearly shows that this leading international health agency is very concerned about the potential negative health impact of EDCs,” said Lisette van Vliet, the group's senior policy advisor for chemicals and chronic disease prevention.
A report by UNEP and WHO, entitled The State of the Science on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals 2012 and released in mid February, notes that although significant knowledge gaps remain about the links between the chemicals and some diseases, associations were apparent for harmful effects on the reproductive system, the neurological system, and increased risks for certain types of cancer.
EU countries take separate action
A number of EU member states have already legislated on endocrine disrupting chemicals on the basis of existing science to protect public health.
France has banned the use of the endocrine disruptor Bisphenol A (BPA) in all food contact materials intended for children under three years of age from 2013, and for all age groups as of 2015.
From January, Belgium has banned the use of BPA in food contact materials for children under three. Sweden has also banned BPA in children’s food contact materials starting this year.
Last year, Denmark announced that four phthalates (DEHP, DBP, DIBP and BBP) would no longer be allowed in shower curtains, table cloths and other consumer goods as they are endocrine disruptors. Danish authorities had already banned Bisphenol A in food contact materials for young children in 2010.
The Health and Environment Alliance welcomed the Parliament’s report, and particularly the way in which it recognises that the EU must shape its chemical policies to address vulnerable phases of life and the ‘cocktail effect’ of mixtures.
“We need an EU Strategy and laws that catch up to the reality of EDC exposures that our bodies face every day. The laws should protect us before every last scientist and the chemical manufacturing industry organisations concede the relationship between our internal contamination and our expanding rates of endocrine-related diseases,” said senior policy advisor for chemicals and chronic disease prevention Lisette van Vliet.
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 functions of this hormonal system increasing the risk of adverse health effects.
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.
- Public Health: MEPs call for clampdown on chemicals affecting hormones
- Environment: Endocrine disruptors website
NGOs & think tanks
- The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL): Website
- The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC): Website
- United Nations and World Health Organisation: State of the science of endocrine disrupting chemicals - 2012