GENTECH archive


Euro draft working paper on endocrine disrupters diluted

BBC Sunday, December 6, 1998 Published at 02:25 GMT

Brussels 'backing down' on gender benders

Campaigners say there is evidence that otters' fertility has been affected
by EDCs

By BBC News Online's Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

A European Union draft working paper on endocrine disrupters - chemicals
which damage the hormone system in wildlife and humans - has been
seriously watered down before publication.

The chemicals, known as EDCs, or "gender benders", are dispersed through
air, water and soil. They are known to be causing damage in species as far
apart as polar bears in the Arctic, alligators in Florida and fish in
British rivers.

EDCs interrupt the hormone system, the body's natural chemical messengers,
and are linked with cancer and behavioural problems. They also lead to
abnormalities in the reproductive system, including shrunken genitals and
impaired fertility.

[ image: Falling sperm counts could be linked to EDCs]
Some species of fish and shellfish affected by EDCs have developed the
genitals of both sexes.


There are fears the chemicals are to blame for a decline in human sperm
counts and a rise in breast, prostate and testicular cancer.

But although many scientists and some governments - including Britain's -
accept that EDCs are to blame, the EU paper refuses to go so far.

It says they are a "general cause for concern", and says there is
"suspicion" they are damaging the health of both humans and wildlife.

The document says there is a "clear need to conduct further research in
order to definitely establish whether there is a causal link between the
health effects seen in humans and wildlife and exposure to specific

Back in September the working paper was prepared to take a much stronger
line and to accept as proven the link between EDCs and damage to health.

The paper has been drawn up by three EU directorates: DG 11, which is
responsible for the environment, DG 3, the industry directorate and DG 24,
which looks after consumer affairs.


Elizabeth Salter is the international toxics co-ordinator for the World
Wide Fund for Nature.

She says the paper has probably been watered down after pressure from the
chemical industry and from DG 3.

Ms Salter said: "This paper is weak. The European Commission is
pussyfooting around - it's not prepared to stick its neck out and look
after the welfare of EU consumers."

EDCs are found in water pipes, tin cans, car dashboards and sealants used
in dentistry.

They also occur in food, some plastics, paint, detergents and cosmetics.

[ image: Some EDCs are used in the manufacture of plastic bottles]

Ironically some EDCs are used in the manufacture of plastic bottles,
making bottled water arguably more risky to drink than tap water.

Ms Salter said: "There is no mechanism in the working paper for action on
currently known EDCs which are affecting you and me today."

"The MEPs' reports which led to the writing of the paper called
specifically for a list of EDCs. It doesn't have one.

"It does not tackle the question of multiple exposure, what happens when
you're exposed to more than one EDC and they interact? So you cannot start
setting safe exposure limits.

The working paper will shortly go out for consultation and will then be
used as the basis for drafting EU legislation.

But environmentalists say there is little prospect of effective
legislation against EDCs until the lawmakers are prepared to admit the
extent of the problem.

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