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Community Strategy for Endocrine Disrupters

COM (99)706

See also COM (2001)262

On 20 December 1999, the European Commission adopted a Communication on a Community Strategy for Endocrine Disrupters – a range of substances suspected of interfering with the hormone systems of humans and wild life. The strategy focuses on man-made substances, including chemicals and synthetic hormones, which may harm health and cause cancer, behavioural changes and reproductive abnormalities. The objectives of the new strategy are to identify the problem of endocrine disruption, its causes and consequences and to identify appropriate policy action on the basis of the precautionary principle in order to respond quickly and effectively to the problem. The strategy points to the need for further research, international cooperation, communication to the public and appropriate policy action and identifies actions in the short, medium and long-term to meet these requirements.

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 and human beings. There is growing concern about a range of man-made substances which are designed for use in industry, agriculture and consumer goods as well as substances produced as a by-product of industrial processes. These substances are now suspected of interfering with the endocrine system.

In October 1998, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution calling upon the Commission to take action in this area to improve the legislative framework, reinforce research efforts and to make information available to the public.

In March 1999, the Scientific Committee for Toxicity, Ecotoxicity and the Environment (SCTEE) issued a report, "Human and Wildlife Health Effects of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, with emphasis on Wildlife and on Ecotoxicology test methods". The report identifies a "potential global problem" for wildlife. It also states that "impaired reproduction and development causally linked to endocrine disrupting substances are well-documented in a number of wildlife species and have caused local and population changes".

Against this background, the Commission Communication on the new strategy has identified four key requirements to address the phenomenon of endocrine disruption: further research; international cooperation; communication to the public; and appropriate policy action. Short, medium and long-term action is proposed to cover these requirements.

In the short term, the Commission intends to gather scientific evidence on substances for further evaluation of their role in endocrine disruption. Once substances are identified, the Commission urges the Member States to make use of existing legislative instruments to their full, where appropriate.

The Commission considers it equally essential to alleviate public concern by communicating effectively. Finally, international co-operation and co-ordination is necessary to make the best use of available resources and to avoid duplication of efforts.

In the medium term, it is essential that the Commission and Member States ensure that sufficient resources are allocated to the development of agreed test methods within the framework of OECD and to the development of an appropriate EU testing strategy. Results of ongoing research projects need to be fed into the policy process. Research and development efforts under the Community’s Fifth Framework Programme on Research & Development (R&D) need to be strengthened. In addition, identification of substitutes and consideration of voluntary initiatives will be important in order to eliminate or find replacements for substances of concern.

In the long term, it will be necessary for the Commission to envisage proposing the adaptation and/or amendment to present EU legislative instruments, which cover substances as well as consumer, health and environmental protection in order to take account of endocrine disrupting effects.


International activities

In May 1997, at the Summit Meeting of the Environment Leaders of the G8 countries, a Declaration was adopted encouraging international coordination in research efforts on endocrine disruption. In May 1999, at the EU-US Transatlantic Environment Conference on Chemicals in Stresa, Italy, emphasis was likewise placed on the need to coordinate research programmes and also to ensure harmonisation via OECD.

The Commission and Member States as well as other stakeholders are currently involved in

Substances under suspicion

Lists of suspected ED chemicals have already been drawn up by various organisations. Under existing legislation, a substantial number of these chemicals are already subject to regulatory measures. However, these measures are usually taken on the basis of reported toxic effects of the substances without necessarily identifying the underlying mechanisms of action.

In its Opinion of 4 March 1999 , the Commission SCTEE cited causal links between tibutyltin (TBT), DDT and PCBs and impaired reproduction and development in wildlife. Examples of current measures involving these substances include a ban on organostannic compounds for use in anti-fouling paints on certain types of boats and in inland waters of the Community and a ban on the use of DDT. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are already subject to bans due to their reproductive toxicity and bio-accumulation effects. Other examples of measures involving suspected chemicals include two pesticides which have been classified as toxic for reproduction and several others which have been classified as carcinogenic or mutagenic.

Overall policy on substances

In November 1998, the Commission adopted a Report on the Operation of four instruments (Directive 67/548/EEC, Directive 88/379/EEC, Regulation (EEC) No.793/93 and Directive 76/769/EEC) concerning the Community policy on chemicals. One of the issues identified in this Report is the need to ensure that these instruments keep up with new scientific developments such as the potential threat of EDs. In December 1998, as a follow-up to this Report, the Council underlined the necessity to work on the development of an integrated and coherent approach to the future chemical policy of the Community – adequately reflecting the precautionary principle. The Council welcomed the Commission’s intention to develop such a strategy in consultation with Member States and other stakeholders. It is clear that the current strategy on endocrine disrupters will in the longer-term form an integral part of the overall strategy to be developed.

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