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Community strategy for endocrine disrupters

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The Commission has developed a strategy to deal urgently with the problem of endocrine disrupters which damage health and the environment.

ACT

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 17 December on a Community strategy for endocrine disrupters [COM(1999) 706 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

Context
The phenomenon of endocrine disrupters is not new. Recently, however, it has attracted significant media attention and has become a cause for public concern. Some Member States have already introduced measures to limit or prohibit certain suspected substances. Though considerable research still needs to be carried out in this area, growing public concern and the various research results already available confirming the problems linked to these substances have prompted the Community to act urgently to address the problem.

Definition
The endocrine system consists of a set of glands and the hormones they produce, which help guide the development, growth, reproduction and behaviour of animals, including human beings. Endocrine disrupters are agents which appear to interfere with (or "disrupt") the functioning of this system.

Natural hormones, synthetically produced hormones and some man-made chemicals are capable of disrupting the endocrine system. The adverse effects of endocrine disrupters on health and the environment appear to relate in particular to exposure to synthetically produced hormones and man-made chemicals. Amongst other things, they impair reproduction and development and cause certain cancers. Cases of impaired reproduction are well documented in a number of species. For instance, the masculinisation of female marine snails has been observed. Endocrine disruption is also particularly marked in wildlife.

Strategy
Existing legislation does not necessarily take account of the adverse effects of endocrine disrupters. In this communication, the Commission proposes a strategy comprising short, medium and long-term action to tackle the problem. It should be noted that much research remains to be done in this area and that there is still no validated test method for establishing definitively whether a substance actually is an endocrine disrupter. The strategy is thus based on existing information but should be flexible enough to incorporate new scientific knowledge.

Similarly, the measures are based on an assessment of the likely timeframe within which results can be achieved, i.e. 1-2 years for short-term actions, 2-4 years for medium-term actions and more than 4 years for long-term action.

Short-term measures

  • Establishment of a priority list for evaluation.
    This is a list of substances requiring priority evaluation ("ED priority list") to identify inter alia substances which can already be addressed under existing legislation, gaps in knowledge and specific cases of consumer use for special consideration;
  • Use of existing legislative instruments.
    Though the amendment of legislation is a long-term action, efforts can be made to reinforce or speed up the implementation of existing legislation such as the Regulation on risk assessment and the Directive on the classification of dangerous substances;
  • Establishment of monitoring programmes.
    The programmes should give an estimation of exposure to the substances on the ED priority list, so that their impact may be studied in terms of dose, timing of exposure, etc.;
  • Identification of specific cases.
    Identifying vulnerable groups exposed to certain substances (e.g. children) and, where those substances are not covered by the existing legislation, examining whether they need to be entered on the ED priority list;
  • Exchange of information and effective coordination between players.
    (Commission, Member States, industry, etc., and at international level);
  • Full public information.
    Informing the public about what is being done, explaining the mechanisms and making information such as the ED priority list public;
  • Regular consultation of stakeholders.
    (Governments, NGOs, industry, etc.).

Medium-term measures

  • Identification and assessment of endocrine disrupters.
    Pursuing international cooperation on research to establish validated test methods capable of identifying endocrine disrupters;
  • Further research and development.
    Particularly through the fifth framework programme of research and development;
  • Encouragement of research into substitutes and voluntary initiatives.

Long-term measures

  • Adaptation/amendment of current legislation to take account of ED.
    In particular Regulation (EEC) No 793/93 on risk assessment and Directive 67/548/EEC on the classification of dangerous substances.

It must also be ensured that other measures, such as legislation to protect the environment (e.g. the water framework Directive) or consumers, take account of endocrine disruption.

RELATED ACTS

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 14 June 2001 on the implementation of the Community Strategy for Endocrine Disrupters [COM(2001) 262 final - Not yet published]
This communication is the first report on the implementation of the strategy for endocrine disrupters. It examines the progress which has been made and sets out future action.

Regarding short-term measures, in 2000 a priority list was compiled of 553 man-made substances and 9 synthetic/natural hormones. A list was also compiled of priority actions to evaluate the role of these substances. The Commission also organised a workshop on endocrine disrupters from 18 to 20 June 2001 in Sweden.

The Commission is continuing to participate in the OECD Endocrine Disrupter Testing and Assessment Task Force, whose goal is to develop agreed test methods for endocrine disrupters. The latest estimates are that agreed test methods for human health should be available in 2002, with tests for environmental effects expected between 2003 and 2005.

Research into endocrine disruption is a priority of the 5th Community framework programme of research and development. A dedicated call for research proposals was published in May 2001 and an overall budget of 20 million euros has been provided.

Regarding legislative action, the proposed revision of the General Product Safety Directive includes inter alia a simplification of conditions and procedures for urgent measures at Community level. In addition, the issue of endocrine disrupters is addressed specifically in the context of new (the water framework Directive) and existing legislation and in the White Paper on a strategy for a future chemicals policy.

Following the preparatory activities carried out in 2000, the year 2001 will be dedicated to detailed evaluation of substances. In 2001-2002, priority will also be given to collecting data, launching research projects and encouraging Member States to speed up the current risk assessment process for existing substances under existing legislation.

 
Last updated: 25.08.2006
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