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Why is it taking so long to regulate endocrine disrupting chemicals?

Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) can be linked to many growing health disorders. Recent studies estimate the costs of having these chemicals circulating in society to be billions of euros every year. Nevertheless, decision makers have still not agreed on how to effectively regulate these chemicals.

EDCs interfere with hormone signalling in the body. The hormone systems control important processes such as reproduction, growth and development. If these systems are disturbed it can lead to severe problems, including infertility, diabetes, obesity, cancer and learning disabilities.

EDCs affect the human hormone signalling system

What effect an endocrine disrupter will have on an individual depends very much on the timing of exposure. This means that even very low doses can have serious effects, especially during times of growth and development, in foetuses and children for example. What makes it even more complex is that the effects can be delayed, even for decades. Exposure during childhood may result in impaired reproduction as an adult.

EDCs are present in many everyday products, including soft plastics, electronics, textiles and cosmetic products.

Delayed political progress

The political process for establishing EDC criteria is much delayed, something that has earlier made Sweden alongside other actors to file a law suite against the Commission.

Last autumn, the responsibility for establishing the criteria was moved within the Commission, from the directorate for the environment (DG ENV) to the directorate for Health and Consumers (DG SANTE). Recent reports have shown how this move, from an environmental DG (ENV) to a more economical DG (SANTE), most likely was the result of heavy lobbying from the chemical and pesticide industries.

A public consultation on the four suggested criteria options was held early 2015. While the consultation was set up in a way that made it difficult for others than scientists to answer, NGO campaigns resulted in thousands of private persons also responding to the consultation.

Just how the replies from the public consultation will be used is not entirely clear. DG SANTE is currently conducting an impact assessment of the different criteria options. This includes the screening of 700 chemicals, mainly pesticides and biocides according to the different criteria options, to be followed by a socioeconomic assessment. The first results from the substance screening are expected in autumn 2015, while the full impact assessment cannot be expected to be finalised until end of 2016, with first draft criteria possibly not until 2017.

The SIN list is already ahead of legislation

At ChemSec we hope that this delayed process will not hinder other regulatory activities on EDCs, or substitution of EDCs within companies. The SIN list holds 32 EDCs substances all based on solid scientific data – substances that should be phased out as soon as possible. ChemSec is also concerned that the scientific consensus reached earlier in the process must not be reopened due to the shift of responsibility and further massive industry lobbying. Further, the socioeconomic analysis for the different criteria options must also include the costs for society from continued use of SVHCs, something that has been recently highlighted in scientific reports.