1604 Still no regulation against endocrine disruptors

When will the European Union finally regulate endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs)? There are about a thousand synthetic substances that are present everywhere in our environment (pesticides, herbicides, plastics, textiles, cosmetics, computers, building materials ...). Those best known by the general public are bisphenol A (whose use in baby bottles the EU has banned) or phthalates. Because of their interaction with hormonal systems, these chemicals are strongly suspected of being harmful to human health, so much so that the World Health Organization has described EDCs as a "global threat".


In spite of the threat they pose, the use of these products is still not controlled by the EU, a situation that has yet to be denounced by non-governmental organizations for the protection of health and the environment. Several pieces of European legislation sought regulation: the Reach agreement on chemicals in 2006, the 2009 legislation on pesticides and that of 2012 on biocides. An agenda had even been set. The first step was to establish a definition of PEC on the basis of which bans could be decided. Then the process, which is in the hands of the European Commission, was to have been completed in December 2013. We are still waiting ...


…so much so that the European Court of Justice reprimanded the Commission last December for its inaction. Recently, it was also asked to explain itself to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.


Sowing doubt
Things had started well. In January 2012, a first report commissioned by the Directorate General (DG) Environment, in charge of the case, had largely cleared the field and in particular recognized the effects of PEC on health. Enough to scare the chemical industry which brought out the heavy lobbying artillery: letters, emails, interviews with public servants and officials at the Commission, and also publications of scientific studies and financial reports detailing potential economic losses were there to be a ban on PEC.


The aim was to sow doubt in the minds of the decision-makers and so paralyse their action, according to Stéphane Horel, a French journalist writing in Le Soir on 20th May 2015. Horel co-authored a report called “A toxic business” that was published by the NGO Corporate Europe Observatory and has written a book entitled “Intoxication” (Editions la Découverte) on the same subject.


According to this survey, industry associations such as the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA), the American Council of Chemistry (ACC) and also companies such as Bayer or BASF have a hand in this.


The industry has also created internal divisions within the Commission. DG Environment supported the application of the precautionary principle but found itself isolated and the dossier was taken away from it and passed to DG Health.


Victory for the chemical industry! In July 2013 when negotiations for TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) were beginning, the Commission decided to launch an impact study about endocrine disruptors. This caused a substantial postponement of legislative deadlines – they are already two years behind. In the Chamber in Strasbourg, the European Commissioner for Health, Vytenis Andriukaitis promised definition criteria for PEC "by the summer." The Belgian MEP Frédérique Ries (MR) has taken him at his word, ensuring that the European Parliament will make sure he keeps his promise.


BERNARD PADOAN     Article published in Le Soir, 3rd February, 2016

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