The criteria to identify endocrine disruptors : implications beyond pesticides and biocides

NGOs call for single, unified system to identify hormone disruptors in cosmetics, water, children’s toys, and everywhere they appear

Original press release :
CIEL news.

Image credit : CIEL Facebook.

A single, unified system to identify hormone-harming chemicals is the best way to keep endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) out of our food, water, toys, and household products.

This is the conclusion of a new report by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and ClientEarth, and endorsed by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from five parties.

Executive Summary

Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) are chemicals that interfere with the natural hormones in our bodies. EDCs are very likely to be contributing to serious health disorders such as cancer, fertility problems, obesity, and other debilitating diseases.

“The EU criteria to identify endocrine disruptors would be the first standards for these chemicals worldwide and set a precedent. The Commission must redesign the criteria to identify these hazardous substances wherever they are located.”

Giulia Carlini,
Staff Attorney at CIEL and co-author of the report.

EDCs are used in a wide variety of products. They are present in our food, cosmetics, clothes, cleaning products, and plastics.

The growing scientific evidence of their negative impacts and the wide exposure to them has led the EU legislator to mention, identify, and manage the risks from EDCs despite the lack of internationally harmonised criteria.

For the first time under EU law, the pesticides and biocides regulations both require the European Commission (the Commission) to determine the scientific criteria necessary to identify EDCs. These two regulations also provide for measure to control the risks from EDCs once identified.

Other regulations similarly contain provisions restricting the use of EDCs but have yet to provide identification criteria (e.g. the proposed regulations regarding medical devices). Still other regulations, such as the Regulation on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), regulate EDCs as “substances of very high concern” on a case-by-case basis. In some cases, the law mentions EDCs without regulating their use, such as the Cosmetics Regulation or the Water Framework Directive.

“The Commission should look itself in the mirror and set out coherent criteria for identifying endocrine disruptors. These must work alongside other laws, for example on cosmetics, water, or chemicals in general.”

Vito Buonsante,
Law and Policy Adviser at ClientEarth and co-author of the report.

In June 2016, the European Commission proposed criteria for the identification of EDCs.

However, despite the variety of sources of exposure to EDCs, a mandate given to the Commission by the 7th Environmental Action Programme (7th EAP) to draft harmonised hazard-based criteria for EDCs, and seven years of work to establish these criteria, the European Commission chose a very narrow approach. It decided to set scientific criteria exclusive for relevant chemicals in pesticides and biocides.

The following report demonstrates that the Commission’s proposal is problematic and could:

  • Further delay the identification of EDCs and their proper regulation. Until horizontal criteria are developed as stipulated in the 7th EAP, EDCs cannot be regulated under other legislation. This is also at odds with the founding principles of Better Regulation, which aim at ensuring that the EU delivers high quality legislation.
  • Lower the level of protection from EDCs due to the misapplication of criteria relevant for biocides and pesticides to other regulatory frameworks. Applying sector-specific criteria to non-pesticides and biocides creates a risk that certain chemicals will not be identified as EDCs.
  • Lead to inconsistencies between the EDCs identified under the Pesticides and Biocides Regulations and those identified under other regulatory frameworks. The consequences of such approach may lead to a lower level of protection from EDCs, particularly for uses in consumer products (e.g. cosmetics, food contact materials, and toys).
  • Create an unclear, unstable, and unpredictable regulatory framework for businesses, workers, and citizens for as long as the scientific criteria are not applicable to chemicals under all regulatory frameworks.

In light of these concerns, CIEL and ClientEarth recommend:

  • The Commission should amend its proposed draft criteria to ensure they are applicable across all relevant EU law. The new criteria must be designed to identify EDCs in whatever product they are used, irrespective of the sector. This means that no sector-specific notions such as “non-target organisms” should be used. It should also follow the methodology of hazard identification under the United Nations Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals and the Classification, Labelling and Packaging Regulation by providing three hazard categories based on the differing strength of evidence: “known” (category 1A), “presumed” (category 1B), and “suspected” EDCs (category 2).
  • If the Commission refuses to change its approach and adopts the proposals, the European Parliament and the Council should reject them, in compliance with the regulatory procedure with scrutiny and the procedure applicable to delegated acts under Article 290(2) TFEU, respectively.
  • If the current sector-specific scientific criteria are nonetheless approved, the Commission must immediately begin review of the criteria to comply with the objective of setting harmonised EDC criteria by 2020, as provided by the 7th EAP.

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