The dangers of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) for human health and the environment have long been documented and the evidence keeps piling up every day, yet Europe’s approach to this challenge has been lukewarm, writes Genon Jensen.
Genon Jensen is the Executive Director of Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL).
From bisphenol A to cadmium or a whole variety of pesticides, we are all exposed to EDCs. However, as the debacle on the identification criteria of endocrine disruptors for pesticides illustrates, the European approach to this emerging challenge lacks ambition. Not only does it fail to follow the latest scientific developments, but also to acknowledge the societal demands for a transition to safer alternatives.
On 4 July, a European Commission proposal for criteria to identify endocrine disrupting chemicals for pesticides was agreed by representatives of EU governments – the end of a four-year process.
For health and environment advocates, scientists, or public interest groups such as health professionals or non-profit insurers, these criteria have a bitter and toxic taste. Leaving aside the significant corporate lobbying interference in the process, one is struck by the health and economic burden that a lack of ambition and political will result in for society.
According to a conservative estimate, diseases arising from exposure to EDCs weigh at least €163 billion on European public health budgets.
Meanwhile, urine tests and hair samples from populations all across Europe show the presence of chemicals that should not be there in people’s bodies: for instance, a study carried out in France in 2015 found no less than 21 endocrine disruptors’ residues per women tested, including toxic chemicals that have been banned from the market.
Keeping these numbers in mind, addressing the emerging challenges posed by the exposition to endocrine disruptors across their uses (beyond pesticides, from cosmetics to food packages, or toys) based on precaution and consistency appears both an urgent and obvious need.
Unfortunately, the criteria agreed are narrow, insufficient, impractical, and they will make it very difficult – if not impossible – to prove that a pesticide is disrupting the endocrine system.
Why does this matter? Because the higher the burden of the proof and the bigger the loopholes in the identification criteria, the longer the products will remain on the market, leaving people exposed to their effects and weighing heavily on public health budgets.
What should be done now?
The battle over the identification criteria for pesticides is not completely over yet. After the summer, the European Parliament will be asked to vote on the European Commission proposal – either to sign it off or to veto it.
This is an important opportunity for MEPs to echo the existing concerns, give a voice to almost 500,000 citizens who have asked for more protective criteria without being heard. Therefore, MEPs should reject the current criteria and defend an ambitious approach that reflects the latest state of science.
Traces of endocrine disrupting chemicals are found everywhere, including in our bodies, which means that we are all concerned by their effects. The Endocrine Disruption Exchange lists about 1,300 potential EDCs, and many more suspected substances need to be investigated.
While scientists and public interest groups are doing their share to address this emerging challenge, decision-makers should have the courage to take political steps that are already available. This can start in the European Parliament with the rejection of the flawed pesticides criteria.
It is time to disrupt business as usual and put the health of the current and future generations first.