On Thursday (18 April), the European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution asking the European Commission to ensure a higher level of protection against endocrine disruptors (EDCs) by making a legislative proposal on the matter no later than June 2020.
It passed with 447 votes in favour, 14 against and 41 abstentions, and was actually the last text to be dealt with by this Parliament.
MEPs proposed treating EDCs or potential EDCs on an equal footing with substances classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction, the so-called CMR substances prohibited in EU cosmetics legislation.
EDCs are a class of chemicals commonly found throughout our environment in children’s products, food containers, personal care products, pesticides and furniture. These hazardous substances alter the functioning of the hormonal system, having a negative effect on the health of humans and animals.
Close to 800 chemicals are known or suspected to be capable of interfering with hormone receptors, hormone synthesis or hormone conversion, according to a report drafted in 2012 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The EU started discussing the issue as early as 1996 and recognised EDCs as a health and environmental hazard in its “Community Strategy for endocrine disruptors” adopted by the Commission in December 1999.
The EU executive revamped interest in the topic last November publishing a new strategy for endocrine disruptors and launching a comprehensive screening of the legislation applicable to EDCs through a fitness check.
According to the lawmakers, the response is so far not adequate to the health threat, as the EU framework for EDCs suggested by the Commission in November lacks both a concrete action plan to minimise exposure to EDCs and a timeline for the next steps to move forward.
Representing the EU executive before the plenary, Violeta Bulc defended the EU efforts: “We can be proud of the progress we have achieved since there, we are recognised as one of the global leaders in dealing with these substances.”
“However, this is not enough: EDCs remain today a global challenge and a source of concern for many citizens,” she said.
She added that the Commission adopted its communication in November in order to step up the EU approach and that the cross-cutting fitness check should be finalised in the first half of 2020, followed by a 12-week-long public consultation.
Before the end of the year, the Commission will also organise the first annual meeting of stakeholders and the launch of a new web portal, as part of the comprehensive set of actions to achieve the objectives included in the communication.
Although the resolution was backed by all the political groups within the Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP) criticised a sort of “ideological hysteria” on EDCs and, in particular, the attempt of putting on the same level suspected and proven EDCs.
“This goes too far, goes too quickly and it’s not based on scientific evidence,” said centre-right British MEP Julie Girling.
Green and liberal lawmakers strongly criticised the definition of EDCs included in the Commission strategy, as it seems to apply only to pesticides and other plant production products.
“Now we know that 80% of exposure comes through the food, so EDCs should be banned in all of the materials in contact with food but also in cosmetics and toys,” said Belgian liberal Frédérique Ries.
Strong political signal
EURACTIV asked Prof. Barbara Demeneix, chair of Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Task Force at Endocrine Society and among the authors of a scientific report on EDCs commissioned by the Parliament’s PETI committee published last March, for her thoughts.
She hailed the call to take concrete action to regulate endocrine disruptors, which are so prevalent in our daily lives.
According to the scientist, the Parliament has sent a strong political signal to both European ministers and the Commission with the adoption of this resolution by a clear cross-party consensus.
“Their call for clear and prompt EU actions is fully justified by the available science-based evidence of increasing damage to public health and it can no longer be ignored by the EU and other countries,” Demeneix said.
Asked about the Perfluoroalkylated substances (PFAS), she said that the topic is particularly worrying, as several thousand of them exist and only a couple are banned.
“The fact that these substances interfere with thyroid hormone homeostasis and affect immune responses is clearly demonstrated, both by epidemiology and laboratory tests,” she concluded.
[Edited by Sam Morgan]