At the end of last week the European Commission’s stakeholder consultation on the fitness check on European Union legislation on endocrine disruptors closed.
Chemicals such as the bisphenols, phthalates, PFAS and some flame retardants, which are used in many everyday products from furnishings and toys to food packaging and cosmetics, have all been found to disrupt the sensitive endocrine system. Because these chemicals are used in such a range of products and processes, their use in the EU is covered by many different regulations.
The fitness check aimed to look at the coherence of different regulatory approaches to the assessment and management of endocrine disruptors; asking if the current legislation delivers its objectives to protect human health and the environment.
In CHEM Trust’s response to the consultation we point out that the current approach is incoherent and piecemeal and could lead to the situation where a substance may be identified as an endocrine disruptor under one regulation and not under another. Therefore, failing to meet the objective to protect both human health and the environment.
In a recent article we laid out some key elements for a way forward to better protect people and wildlife and we elaborated on them in our submission.
CHEM Trust proposes a cross-sectoral approach to identify endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) based on elements of adverse effects, endocrine activity and a plausible link between these, that reflect the different levels of evidence and the scientific uncertainties. We argue that a new category of suspected EDCs should include those substances for which there is a substantial amount of evidence for endocrine disrupting properties, leading to use restrictions with the aim to prevent consumer and environment exposure.
Once a chemical is identified under this scheme, the respective EU laws can be applied to act on the identified hazards; in a similar way as they currently act on substances identified as carcinogenic or toxic to reproduction. We emphasise that exposure to EDCs may have very serious and irreversible consequences even at very low doses; it should not be up to the consumer to protect themselves by knowing which substances to avoid.
Bans on EDCs in consumer products needed
EDCs and suspected EDCs should be banned in consumer products such as food contact materials, toys, cosmetics and medical devices. This will avoid the many inconsistencies in the way chemicals are currently identified and controlled with regard to endocrine disrupting properties across sectors, as seen for example with phthalates and bisphenols.
More information needed
We also stress that industry must provide more detailed information about the endocrine disrupting properties of their substances during the registration process under REACH or in the application for use as a pesticide or biocide. Information requirements should also include a procedure of systematic screening for information on potential endocrine disrupting properties of a substance, and in general be enhanced to specifically address endocrine disrupting properties for all tonnage levels.
Speeding up the system
The current identification processes as regards endocrine disrupting properties are too burdensome for authorities and regulatory processes are proceeding very, very slowly. So, in practice only very few substances have been identified as EDCs even when regulatory instruments are in place. During this time exposure to people and wildlife continues.
Finally, we underline that EDCs should as default be considered as non-threshold chemicals and that the seriousness of effects, including the issues of sensitive windows of exposure, low dose effects, non-monotonic dose responses and the irreversibility of effects, should all be taken into account when risk assessing substances with endocrine disrupting properties.
It will be possible to minimise exposure to EDCs, by ensuring:
- their swift identification (including updated data/information requirements);
- inclusion of protective rules in all relevant EU legislation, with a focus on a phase out;
- publication of lists of both EDCs and suspected EDCs for more transparency;
- bans in consumer products.
Pia Juul Nielsen, CHEM Trust senior adviser said:
“We call on the Commission to urgently move ahead with the Fitness Check but at the same time use all existing legal instruments to improve controls of EDCs and reduce exposures to EDCs right now. We should not forget that it is the reproduction and brain development of future generations that is at stake.”
- CHEM Trust is also a member of the EDC Free Europe coalition which sent a letter to the Environment and Health Commissioners in December, highlighting the need to address EDCs in the chemicals part of the Green Deal.