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New report outlines key scientific elements for identifying endocrine disrupters

Apr 02 2013

An expert group, chaired by the JRC, confirms that the scientific identification of endocrine disrupting substances should be based on the demonstration of both endocrine activity and an adverse effect caused by it. A wide range of substances are under scrutiny for endocrine disrupting properties, such as plastic additives in consumer goods, a number of industrial chemicals, cleaning agents, pesticides and by-products of industrial processes like dioxins.

Endocrine active substances can alter functions of the body's hormonal system and if this results in adverse health effects, including cancer, behavioural changes and reproductive abnormalities, they are known as endocrine disrupters. The report stresses that the elements for the scientific identification of endocrine disrupting substances should be demonstration of an adverse effect for which there is convincing evidence of a biologically plausible causal link to an endocrine disrupting mode of action. Furthermore it has to be demonstrated that the disruption of the hormonal system was not a secondary consequence of other non endocrine-mediated toxicity.

The report presents the results of the work of the Endocrine Disrupters Expert Advisory Group (ED EAG), which was set up in 2011 to provide advice on scientific criteria for the identification of endocrine disrupting substances. Composed of toxicologists and ecotoxicologists, nominated by Member State authorities, relevant industry associations and non-governmental consumer and environmental protection organisations, the group's conclusions are consistent with the recently published opinion by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA). They are part of the European Commission's wider initiative aiming at a recommendation for horizontal criteria related to the identification of endocrine disruptors.

The expert group also screened the currently available test methods and observed that existing OECD standardised tests mostly focus on identification of substances acting by interference with estrogen, androgen or thyroid hormone pathways, including steroid hormone production. These test methods may not cover all endocrine-sensitive end points, for example, there are no standardised test methods available in mammals to investigate early life (in utero) exposure on effects which may show up later in life such as hormone-related cancers or early menopause. It was recommended that priority areas for further development of tests should be taken into account by emerging human health issues or observed negative impacts on wildlife populations.