The European Commission should amend its proposed criteria on endocrine disruptors and adopt a horizontal approach covering not only pesticides but also other products, a new report says.
In June 2016, the European Commission presented a long-awaited science-based set of criteria for identifying substances with endocrine disrupting properties of plant protection products and biocides [See background].
In December last year, the EU Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF) met to vote on the proposed endocrine disruptors criteria but no agreement was reached as member states are deeply divided over the issue.
A new report carried out by the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and ClientEarth makes things more complicated, claiming that the Commission’s criteria should not be limited to substances contained in pesticides and biocides but rather expand to other sectors.
For the CIEL and ClientEarth, the only solution to keep endocrine disruptors out of food, water, toys and household products is a single system to identify these chemicals.
Referring to the 7th Environmental Action Programme, the environmental NGOs claim that the EU executive was wrong to set scientific criteria exclusive for relevant chemicals in pesticides and biocides as these dangerous substances could be present in all aspects of people’s everyday life which are covered by other EU regulations.
“Hormone disruptors (EDCs) lurk in all kinds of other products. They contaminate the water we drink, the toys our children play with, and the soaps and cleaners we use on a daily basis,” the report says.
The NGOs, therefore, urge the Commission to amend its proposed draft criteria in such a way that would apply across all relevant EU law irrespective of the sector.
Particularly, the environmentalist NGOs suggest the adoption of a horizontal approach covering the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), the Cosmetics Regulation, the Water Framework Directive, the Toys Directive, the Medical Devices Regulations, and the Food Contact Materials Regulation.
These regulations already contain provisions restricting the use of endocrine disruptors but have yet to provide identification criteria (e.g. the proposed regulations regarding medical devices).
The report notes that there are regulations, such as the Regulation on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), which regulate endocrine disruptors as “substances of very high concern” on a case-by-case basis. In some cases, the law mentions EDCs without regulating their use, such as the Cosmetics Regulation or the Water Framework Directive.
ClientEarth lawyer Vito Buonsante said, “The Commission should look itself in the mirror and set out coherent criteria for identifying endocrine disruptors. These must work alongside other laws, for example on cosmetics, water, or chemicals in general. This is the only way to effectively protect people and the environment from hormone-harming chemicals.”
A problematic proposal
The report also warns that the executive’s proposal is “problematic” and it could further delay the identification of EDCs.
“Until horizontal criteria are developed as stipulated in the 7th EAP, EDCs cannot be regulated under other legislation. It will also delay the application of REACH to all relevant substances with endocrine-disrupting properties and the inclusion of these substances on the REACH candidate list.”
In addition, the NGOs claimed that the level of protection would be lowered because of the misapplication of criteria relevant for biocides and pesticides to other regulatory frameworks.
The report is also endorsed by MEPs from five political groups: Younous Omarjee from the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left, Peirnicola Pedicini (Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group- EFDD), Sirpa Pietikäinen (European People’s Party-EPP), Pavel Poc (Socialists and Democrats-S&D), and Michèle Rivasi (Greens).
Bertrand Vallet, a policy officer at the European federation of national associations of drinking water suppliers and wastewater services (EurEau), told Euractiv.com, “We agree with the hazard based approach. In this context, EDC compounds should be qualified as such if they may have EDC disrupting properties. There should be no derogations from that”.
“So the modification of the definition goes in the right direction. We agree that the criteria should not be limited to pesticides and biocides,” he emphasised.
“Water suppliers must have access to adequate and reliable sources that are protected from contamination. The sustainable protection of source waters is essential for the supply of safe, clean drinking water that complies with the requirements set by the Drinking Water Directive (DWD), now and for future generations,” Vallet added.
Giulia Carlini, Staff Attorney and co-author of the report, stressed, “The EU criteria to identify endocrine disruptors would be the first standards worldwide, and set a precedent”.
“The Commission must redesign the criteria to identify these hazardous substances wherever they are located. If the Commission refuses to change its restrictive approach, the European Parliament and the Council must veto the current criteria to protect people and the environment,” she added.
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can have harmful effects on the body's endocrine (hormone) system. They interfere with natural hormone systems, and the health effects can be felt long after the exposure has stopped. These chemical substances are present in a large number of everyday products: foods, cleaning products, food containers, etc.
Exposure to endocrine disruptors in the womb can have life-long effects and can even have consequences for the next generation.
The European Commission was supposed to define test criteria for potential endocrine disruptors by December 2013.
In June 2016, the EU executive finally presented a long-awaited science-based set of criteria for identifying substances with endocrine disrupting properties of plant protection products and biocides.
Once adopted, the EU regulatory system will be the first worldwide to define scientific criteria for endocrine disruptors in legislation.