EU to propose hormone chemicals action plan

Draft paper stresses precautionary principle, need to address public concerns

The European Commission is set to propose the creation of an EU action plan on hormone-disrupting chemicals in a working paper which is expected to be published before the end of the year.

Currently in draft form, the paper identifies policy options for the EU "on the basis of the precautionary principle". It does not make a new evaluation of the problem, but notes that studies associating adverse effects with exposure to specific chemicals have "fuelled public concern and placed pressure on policy-makers and regulators to address the problem as a matter of urgency".

The paper examines how far existing instruments on hazard identification, risk assessment and risk management could be used to "catch" hormone-disrupting chemicals in the EU legislative net.

It outlines how a range of short, medium and long term actions could ease public disquiet about the degree to which existing consumer, health and environmental protection policies fail to address the hormone disruption phenomenon.

Short-term priority is given to research into the causes and consequence of endocrine disruption alongside full participation in an OECD working party now leading the development of internationally harmonised screening protocols and testing procedures for hormone disrupters.

"A priority list" of potential hormone disrupters is also proposed in the short term, to help expand monitoring programmes and better estimate the routes and scale of exposure in all media and a wide range of products. Likewise, the paper suggests increasing the flow of information to the public about hormone disruption and actions being taken to address the issue.

In the medium term, the paper stresses, the need to ensure results from further and extended research get fed into policy-making. It also highlights a need to find or develop effective substitutes for many hormone disrupters.

In the long term, the paper concludes, key legislative instruments such as the 1967 directive on the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances and the 1993 chemicals assessment regulation will need will need to be modified.

European environmental groups are highly critical of the document, alleging that the Commission's industry directorate has forced a significant watering down of earlier drafts that took much stronger line on the links between hormone disrupters and damage to human health and the need for urgent action. Industry groups are equally irritated, arguing the creation of a priority list would be impossible before a great deal more research had been completed.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

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