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| RESEARCH: Prague Declaration gathers steam to focus endocrine disrupter research

    Prominent scientists have signalled their concerns about the risks to human and wildlife health posed by chemicals in everyday use which interfere with the hormone system, known as endocrine disrupters. The harmful effects of these substances on development in humans and wildlife are extremely complex and demand long-term scientific study and a close coordination of international research in order to achieve results to properly inform public policy. These are the broad goals of efforts such as the EU-sponsored CREDO cluster research projects and the new Prague Declaration, a manifesto whose support is spreading internationally across the field of endocrine disrupter (ED) research.

    Abnormal spermatozoa © Courtesy of A. Salzbrunn
    Abnormal spermatozoa
    © Courtesy of A. Salzbrunn
    Unveiled in June at a press conference in Brussels, the Prague Declaration emanated from an international workshop in the Czech capital in early May that was attended by 170 participants. This Declaration is a clarion call to governments and the public to address the risks that endocrine disrupters pose to the health of humans and wildlife. The links between these chemicals and effects which have been observed in wildlife, from snails to polar bears, have been well established. “Wildlife provides early warnings of effects produced by endocrine disrupters which may as yet be unobserved in humans,” said Andreas Kortenkamp, coordinator of CREDO and the EU-funded EDEN research project.

    The high prevalence of human reproductive disorders and the rise in cancers of reproductive organs such as testes is of particular concern to many scientists. “We have identified an extremely disturbing trend that shows a substantial rise in genital disorders in boys and young men in Europe,” said Professor Niels E. Skakkebaek MD, who coordinates EDEN’s research into human male reproductive. “Lifestyle, diet, and environmental contamination all play a role in these disorders. We need to make absolutely sure that research is constantly updated in this area.”

    Endocrine disrupters are a diverse group of chemicals from pesticides and pharmaceuticals to flame retardants and plasticisers used in everyday products. The challenge to identify these chemicals is huge. The objective of the proposed new EU chemicals legislation, known as REACH (Regulation, Evaluation, and Authorisation of Chemicals) is the registration of a vast array of substances – 30 000 – that are produced or imported into the EU in large quantities, and for endocrine disrupters to be brought under an authorisation procedure. “Current testing does not take ED effects fully into account. There is a real need for safety tests to identify chemicals which are endocrine disrupters,” said Ragnor Pedersen, a researcher at the University of London School of Pharmacy’s Centre for Toxicology and a participant in the CREDO project. The Declaration calls on precautionary action to reduce exposures to and the risks from endocrine disrupters not to be delayed by uncertainty.

    ED research: a 360-degree perspective

    Informing the public and governments on research progress and making suggestions that might lead to better protection of human and wildlife health lies behind the Prague Declaration, whose initial signatures include prominent researchers from across Europe and leading US scientists. Understanding how man-made chemicals and substances interact with the growth and reproductive cycles of humans and wildlife is a vast undertaking, as much for its sheer scope as for its complexity. Yet no single country in Europe can tackle these ambitious goals on its own: international co-operation between research groups is critical.

    The CREDO cluster aims to do precisely that. With a budget of €20 million funded from the EU’s Fifth Framework Programme, it brings together more than 60 research laboratories in Europe to exploit their research potential and promote effective collaboration across individual projects. CREDO’s four projects each focus on a different area. EDEN pursues the effects of low-dose exposure and mixtures of chemicals on human and wildlife health. FIRE is centred on risk assessment of brominated flame retardants, while COMPRENDO focuses on endocrine disruption in wildlife. Finally, EURISKED is developing new testing and screening methods to identify effects on biological receptors.

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    • European Commission, Research DG