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Recipe for hormone system disruption: Step one – manipulate science and bake regulations for 2.5 years

By Pauline Robert, Geneva-based legal intern
By Pauline Robert, Geneva-based legal intern

In a recent article in Le Monde, almost a hundred scientists denounced industry’s manipulation of science related to climate change and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). The scientists fear that the European Commission’s scientific criteria to identify EDCs ignore the scientific community’s insights, similar to how concerns about climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were handled before the 2015 adoption of the Paris Agreement. The scientists urge the European Commission to provide strong regulatory standards to identify EDCs in order to prevent the distortion of science and protect people from dangerous health impacts.

EDCs interfere with hormone systems. Such hormones regulate body and brain development, reproduction, growth, metabolism, immunity, and behaviour. Many products, including food containers, plastics, cosmetics, and pesticides, contain EDCs. Scientific studies have proved that EDC exposure has serious health impacts, such as infertility, hormone-related cancers, diabetes, obesity, and neurological disorders.

According to the European Pesticides and Biocides Regulations, the European Commission was to identify EDCs through scientific criteria by December 13, 2013. Identification is a necessary first step to be able to ban these substances in products. However, the criteria to identify EDCs are not adopted yet. In June 2014, Sweden sued the European Commission for failing to meet the 2013 deadline, and on December 16, 2015, the Court condemned the Commission for ignoring the deadline.

The European Commission wrote its first proposal for scientific criteria to identify EDCs on June 15, 2016. However, the Commission revised the criteria twice, in November and December 2016, after the scientific community, States, NGOs, and industry disagreed with the proposals. The Endocrine Society noted that the first revised proposal ‘asks for an unrealistically high level of scientific evidence for endocrine disruptors, limiting the ability to identify and regulate EDCs’. The 100-year-old Endocrine Society is composed of more than 18,000 professionals in the field of endocrinology from 122 countries, including 10 members who have been awarded a Nobel Prize. The Endocrine Society also pointed out that the European Commission’s revised proposal defined EDCs too narrowly, making it difficult for a substance to be recognized as an EDC.

In December, the European Commission issued yet another revised proposal that ignores science and maintains the same flawed criteria, raising pressure on EU Member States to adopt it.

Adopting criteria that do not protect our health from the dangers of endocrine disruptors is not an alternative to no criteria. States should not give up, and they must continue to demand the Commission revise the criteria, until they can effectively identify EDCs and do not leave us exposed to these hazardous substances.

The development of scientific criteria to identify and define EDCs would constitute significant progress at the European level, and also at the international level, as these criteria would represent the first standards worldwide, and set a precedent. In Europe, for instance, the Medical Devices Regulation will use the criteria to identify EDCs under the Biocides Regulation. This means that endocrine disruptors could end up not only in disinfecting soaps or in our food, but also in in medical devices used for small children, pregnant women, and medical patients.

Internationally, other States will take the EU criteria as the foundation by which to identify endocrine disruptors, and future legal instruments could be based on the Commission’s criteria. Consequently, the European Commission’s work to provide pertinent scientific criteria is extremely important for the protection of human and animal health and the environment worldwide.

Originally posted January 26, 2017