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Chemicals in the environment can alter the endocrine systems of animals and prevent them from growing or breeding successfully. One example is the feminisation of fish, but invertebrates at the bottom of the food chain and crustaceans of economic importance may be more significant. There is also a risk that higher vertebrates could be affected, too. A number of manufactured chemicals that escape into the environment are suspected as possible endocrine disrupters (ED), but we need reliable methods to identify them and understand how they work in animal organisms. We also require reliable methods to assess the scale of the threat posed to human health and to the environment by existing and new compounds, while minimising the amount of animal testing.


The United States, Japan and many EU Member States that belong to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) currently have research programmes on ED and a regulatory system waiting for reliable methods (OECD Test Guidelines) to evaluate the potential hazard. There is a need to coordinate the work and develop and validate harmonised test methods which can be used by any regulatory authority to screen chemicals for their potential hazard. The OECD has set up the TESTMETEDECO project to assist member countries in assessing the performance of ED methods. The EU's role here is to support the statistical analysis and reporting, before member countries decide on the development of OECD Test Guidelines. The action will enhance collaboration between laboratories in EU Member States and the USA and Japan, and contribute to the Union's policy objective of reducing environmental health risks.

The aim of the OECD activity, beyond the TESTMETEDECO project, is to provide a battery of reliable and harmonised test methods to meet regulatory needs. In vitro methods, which usually cover receptor-binding modes of action, are suitable for many chemicals. They enable prioritisation of further testing and are preferred, where possible, to reduce the use of animals in experimentation. Nevertheless, in vivo tests may still be needed to study the chronic effects of chemicals on individual organisms and populations.


The test methods performance assessment is one of the prime aims of this support action. More broadly, three validation management groups of specialists have been set up to establish the relevance and reliability of methods developed. The first group oversees mammalian screening and testing for endocrine disrupters of human health (sex hormones or thyroid activity). The second covers ecotoxicity testing. Tests on fish, amphibian and invertebrates species are discussed. In fish, the use of biomarker proteins appears to be a reliable way to discriminate endocrine active substances from other chemicals. Amphibians represent a useful model for detecting chemicals active on the thyroid system which regulate growth.

Chronic tests on invertebrates are being standardised to evaluate adverse consequences of potential ED on the primary providers in the food chain. The third group supervises all non-animal tests, which is a theme in several other EU programmes. This group, like the first two, will seek to avoid duplication of such tests being developed in OECD member countries.

To spread information about the action's validated methods and other results, review papers will be published during the work and the final report will include a review of the results obtained during validation studies for each of the methods considered. Finally, the best tools developed will be consolidated into a strategy for testing endocrine disrupters, which will be widely publicised. It will help to assess hazards to the environment and human health, and provide instruments for regulators.

List of Partners

  • Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Environment Health and Safety Division (France)
  • Various laboratories in OECD member countries to be nominated by OECD
Full title:
Development of test methods for the detection and characterisation of endocrinedisrupting chemicals in environmental species
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Anne Gourmelon,
EC Scientific Officer:
Wilfried Diekmann,
Isabelle de Froidmont-Görtz and
EU contribution:
€ 226,000
Specific Support Action

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top