Rising levels of cancer in European Union Member States, along with increasing brain, thyroid and reproductive problems, which may all be connected with exposure to chemicals widely used in industry, have led an international group of scientists to demand a much tougher regulatory regime governing the use of chemicals in the EU.
The call is contained in the 2013 Berlaymont Declaration on Endocrine Disruptors, which has been signed by 89 leading public health scientists from around the world.
The Declaration has been presented to Antonio Tajani, the Vice-President of the European Commission, Tonio Borg, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, Commissioner for Research Innovation and Science, and Janez Potocnik, Commissioner for the Environment.
It explains that the Europe-wide rate of increase in endocrine-related diseases - diseases caused by interference in human hormones - cannot be explained by genetics or lifestyle choices.
Research has shown that chemicals commonly used by industry in thousands of different products, including flame retardants, pesticides and many types of plastic, do have an effect on endocrine systems. Scientists are increasingly concerned that people’s exposure to these chemicals, both singly and in combination with others, may be contributing to high and rising levels of serious disease.
“A major problem is that for many endocrine disrupting effects, internationally agreed and validated test methods do not exist, although scientific tools and laboratory methods are available,” said Professor Susan Jobling, of Brunel University, London. “For a large range of human health effects, viable laboratory methods are missing altogether. This seriously hampers progress in understanding the full risks.
“The proposals we have seen for regulating endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) do not follow the best available scientific advice and place commercial interests above the protection of human and wildlife health. I and my colleagues are calling on the European Commission to implement a regulatory regime for EDCs that is based on sound scientific principles.”
The Declaration says that internationally accepted test methods that have been available for many years have yet to be implemented in the EU. It claims that current EU chemicals regulations are “entirely inadequate” for identifying EDCs.
The signatories to the Declaration say that current regulations, which say that low levels of exposure to these chemicals should be safe, ignore the possibility that many endocrine disruptors may act without thresholds, causing disruption at any concentration.
Among the disorders thought to be linked to exposure to EDCs are:
- large proportions of young men in EU Member States with semen quality so poor that it will seriously affect their chances of fathering children;
- a dramatic rise in breast cancer in Eastern and Southern European EU Member States;
- strong rises in cancer of the prostate, testes, ovaries and thyroid across the EU;
- the prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes in almost all Member States.
As well as action to control the use of chemicals, the Declaration calls for a targeted endocrine disrupter research programme, focusing on exposure assessments and the identification of substances with endocrine disrupting properties, assay development to create laboratory models, and further research in support of human health studies.
“Although uncertainties remain, European Commission-funded research has greatly contributed to substantiating the plausibility of serious, irreversible harm stemming from endocrine disruptors,” said Professor Ake Bergman of Stockholm University in Sweden. “Scientific uncertainty should therefore not delay regulatory action.”