Increasing momentum for Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs): relevant actions at EU level

Brussels — March 2013 was an important month for Endocrine Disruptors with the vote of the European Parliament own initiative report, and the publication of the opinion of the European Food and Safety Authority’s (EFSA) Scientific Committee and the report of the Endocrine Disrupters Expert Advisory Group (ED EAG). In addition, the momentum continues with a new consensus statement published early this week by the authors of the WHO/UNEP 2012 report.

The authors of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)/World Health Organization (WHO) report State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals - 2012 launched a call for action in the latest issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives reiterating their concerns about the impact of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) on public health and the environment. The authors are concerned that the main point of the report, such as the progress in the understanding of EDCs, their mechanisms of action, and their effects and impacts on human and wildlife health might not reach the scientific community. At a time when the political debate on EDCs is high, it is crucial that the scientific community holds a strong position and that scientists from different disciplines work together to intensify research on EDCs with the aim to improve methodologies to identify EDCs, exposure sources, mechanisms of interaction and move beyond studies on individual chemicals to evaluate chemical mixtures.

At the EU level, the European Parliament, with its own initiative report, has called for an ambitious legislation that minimises risks from endocrine disruptors and protects human health and the environment. In the mean time, the European Commission (EC) is revising the EU strategy on endocrine disrupting chemicals and has the obligation by the end of 2013 to establish criteria for the identification of endocrine disrupting substances to be used across different pieces of legislation concerning the control and risk management of chemical substances. The EC also commissioned in 2012 two reports on EDCs, one to the Endocrine Disrupters Expert Advisory Group (ED EAG) and another to the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) Scientific Committee, which should provide scientific basis for the establishment of criteria to identify EDCs. Both reports were published in March 2013.

EFSA’s Scientific Committee reviewed exiting information related to the testing and assessment of EDCs and tries to bring back traditional risk assessment approaches and to introduce a new definition of: endocrine active substances (EAS), contradicting the most advanced scientific knowledge that supports the lack of safety thresholds for EDCs and introducing confusion on the accepted definitions that might be misleading. The ED EAG report supports a broad definition of the endocrine system considering other groups besides vertebrates but acknowledging that nowadays the possibilities to identify an endocrine disrupting mode of action are largely limited to perturbations of the estrogen, androgen an thyroid hormone pathways. The expert group could not agree on the differentiation of endocrine disruptors into categories and has disappointingly left all the decision to policy makers.

The game is now in the hands of the European Commission with a proposal for a EDCs strategy expected for June 2013 addressing the health concerns of all Europeans and the effects on future generations.

Bergman A. et al. (2013) The Impact of endocrine disruption: a consensus statement on the State of the Science Environment Health Perspectives 121:a104-a106

Scientific Opinion on the hazard assessment of endocrine disruptors: Scientific criteria for identification of endocrine disruptors and appropriateness of existing test methods for assessing effects mediated by these substances on human health and the environment. EFSA Journal 2013 11(3): 3132

Key scientific issues relevant to the identification and characterization of endocrine disrupting substances - Report of the Endocrine Disrupters Expert Advisory Group – JRC Scientific and Policy Reports 2013, Report EUR 25919 EN

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