EU experts identify priority hormone chemicals

Commission officials stress that formal list of endocrine disrupters is far from ready

The European Commission's environment directorate (DG) has identified around 20-30 suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that will receive priority action for further information gathering in the coming months. At a two-day meeting in Brussels last week, scientific experts from around the EU examined data on 116 substances that had already been identified by the directorate as possible EDCs (ENDS Daily 28 May) and differentiated between those where convincing evidence of endocrine disruption existed and others where the data was insufficient.

The priority chemicals - details of which have not been released - will now be examined to see what they are used for and to discover their environmental concentrations. These studies should be complete in the first quarter of next year, according to the environment DG.

The grouping is likely to evolve into a more formal list of endocrine-disrupters that could be targeted for risk reduction by the EU. However, environment DG officials stress that this is not the case at present, saying that there will have to be a major consultation process with EU scientific committees and other experts before such a list could be finalised.

The Commission is mindful that it could face attacks from both side of the environmental debate. Industry says that a list of suspected substances would instantly be used as a blacklist and risk inappropriate bans. Environmental NGOs, meanwhile, claim that such a list would be useless if it did not include enough substances or lead to action to restrict their use if suspected of harming health and the environment.

However, such a list will eventually be a central part of the Commission's soon-to-be-published strategy on EDCs. A communication was ready to be published in March, but was delayed by the resignation of the Commission. The draft communication foresees the creation of a list of potential EDCs which would be used to help prioritise substances for risk assessment at the EU and OECD level, to channel funding for research and development and possibly to justify exposure reduction measures - such as product bans - based on the precautionary principle.

Once this is adopted, the environment DG will organise a stakeholder conference to debate how the strategy can be implemented. The creation of a list is one of the short-term measures that the strategy will identify, along with international cooperation and information exchange. In the medium term, the strategy foresees methods for testing for endocrine disruption in various organisms being developed at the OECD - an on-going process that might take another two years, according to Commission sources. Long-term measures would include possible policy actions such as restricting or banning substances that have been shown to be EDCs.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

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