EU endocrine disrupter strategy unveiled

New laws could be drawn up in four years, following prioritisation, standardised testing

The European Commission expects to propose legislation in four years to combat threats to health and the environment from hormone-mimicking chemicals, the EU executive said yesterday. New laws are the long-term aim of a strategy on endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) which will see the early publication of a list of substances earmarked for priority action and a common framework to test the full range of effects linked to the chemicals.

Delayed by the resignation of the European Commission in March, the strategy followed a Commission scientific committee review of EDCs. The review concluded that there were "associations" between EDCs and "human health disturbances" such as sex organ cancers and deformities and falling sperm counts. It also said they represented a "potential global problem" for wildlife. Sexual modifications in some shellfish and egg-shell thinning in birds of prey due to pesticides are among the best known effects of EDCs.

The Commission said it would look to amend existing EU laws governing hazardous substances such as pesticides over a long-term horizon of four years. The changes would plug gaps caused by the fact that current measures "are not necessarily related to the endocrine system and EU laws may not fully address all effects potentially caused by EDCs."

The delay in regulatory action is necessary, the Commission says, because there are "currently no test strategies/methods available which detect all effects" linked to EDCs. The exact form of action "will only become clear once appropriate test methods are available to assess the extent of the phenomenon," it adds.

The establishment of a first series of tests and associated guidelines is a medium-term goal. Work is being coordinated by the OECD and will be completed in 2-4 years, it says. Other medium-term goals include research on substitute chemicals and "consideration of voluntary initiatives" to begin controls on certain EDCs.

Once in place, the testing framework will be applied to a list of substances to be prioritised for risk assessment and possible legislative action. Work on drawing up the list is already at an advanced stage; around 100 potential EDCs have been highlighted from a list of over 500 (ENDS Daily 21 May). The final list will be published in April.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. References: A Commission press release dated 20/12/99 is posted on Rapid.

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