Water industry: Light criteria on endocrine disruptors benefit polluters

EurEau: “A clear definition will support the revision of the Water Framework Directive." [Tim Geers / Flickr]

A less strict approach on defining endocrine disruptors will help industries producing such substances “pollute and not pay”, the association representing Europe’s water sector (EurEau) told euractiv.com.

Last week, the European chemical industry heated up the debate over the definition of endocrine disruptors in the EU warning that the Commission’s proposed criteria are not operational.

EU criteria on endocrine disruptors insufficient, warns chemical industry

The European Commission’s draft criteria for identifying endocrine disruptors in pesticides and biocides are “not sufficient” to protect people and the environment, the European chemical industry has warned.

Stakeholders are divided over the “approach” the executive should ultimately adopt in order to define endocrine disruptors.

In June, the Commission said that the ‘hazard-based’ approach of the Pesticides Regulation should be adopted, meaning that substances are banned on the basis of hazard without taking into account the exposure (See background).

On the other hand, a risk-based approach, backed by the chemical industry, would also include exposure.

Pesticide industry critical of endocrine disruptors criteria

The pesticide industry is “extremely disappointed” with the European Commission’s proposal to identify endocrine disruptors that was presented on Wednesday (15 June).

A clear definition

The proposed definition from the European Commission is based on the World Health Organisation WHO definition, which in its short version does not mention exposure through the environment or through plant protection products (such as pesticides), water suppliers claim.

WHO defines an endocrine disruptor as “an exogenous substance or mixture that alters function(s) of the endocrine system and consequently causes adverse health effects in an intact organism, or its progeny, or (sub)populations”.

“We want a scientifically based, well grounded, horizontal and clear EDC definition that can be understood, communicated, and applied on various products to allow the protection of water resources across Europe,” EurEau’s communications manager Caroline Greene told EURACTIV.

For EurEau, such criteria would help it steer its long-term strategy for water resource protection as well as the communication with customers.

“A clear definition will support the revision of the Water Framework Directive and stimulate control at source measures for endocrine disruptors’ compounds (substitution of EDC by more harmless alternatives),” Greene said, adding that this would also support and reinforce the “polluter pays principle”.

This means that endocrine disruptors-producing industries will finance the possible extra treatment needed to phase out these substances to protect water resources and human health, Greene explained.

Water resources and cost

EurEau advocates strong criteria such as the assessment of endocrine disrupting properties of chemical substances in the authorisation process for all substances, which could have an impact on water resources.

It believes that the ban of substances should be decided according to a hazard based approach which takes into consideration the risk of adverse impacts on water resources (groundwater and surface water).

“Historic experiences show that once products are introduced in the economy, these products inevitably will diffuse into the environment regardless of the regulations,” Greene stressed.

Water suppliers fear that less strict criteria defining endocrine disruptors will be exploited by the industry resulting in increased costs for consumers.

“Less strict criteria will allow endocrine disruptors-producing industries to pollute and not pay,” EurEau noted, adding that the Commission should enforce the source control approach, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle.

“Pesticides, their metabolites and transformation products are increasingly having a negative impact on the quality of water resources, and drinking water operators have to resort to extra and expensive treatments more regularly while consumers bear the costs,” she underlined, stressing that by making the polluter pay, water operators avoid passing the costs of treating water onto consumers.

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.

  • 31 August: End of consultation process

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