The response of governments and
industry to hormone disrupting chemicals
The European Commission published its strategy
on endocrine disruption in December 1999 (full text in pdf format
It was originally expected to include a list of 20-30 suspected
endocrine disrupters (ENDS Daily, 1999), but this list is now
postponed to April 2000. The EU also published a communication
on the precautionary principle in February 2000; the full text
is available here.
Several endocrine disrupters are under
review as part of the very slow Existing Substances process (see
the alkylphenols page for an example).
The EU is currently reviewing its chemicals policy, having accepted
that it is not effective enough - more details on the Friends
of the Earth site.
In March 1999 the Commission's Scientific
Committee on Toxicity, Ecotoxicity and the Environment published
a report on endocrine disruption: "Opinion
on Human and Wildlife Health Effects of Endocrine Disrupting
Chemicals, with Emphasis on Wildlife and on Ecotoxicology Test
The UK Government published its new chemicals
strategy in December 1999 (more details, including Friends of
the Earth's response, available on Friends
of the Earth's Safer Chemicals Campaign Pages)
The Environment Agency of England and Wales
issued a consultation document on endocrine disrupters in the
environment in January 1998 [available
on their website]. Friends of the Earth's response is available
on the Safer Chemicals
Campaign web site. The Environment Agency finally published
their strategy in March 2000; it's available on
their web site. However, the strategy ended up even weaker
than the consultation document.
The US EPA has finalised proposals to screen
thousands of chemicals for endocrine disrupting chemicals (more information on
their site). A US EPA review of endocrine disruption is available on
the web. There are no signs yet
of any new controls on existing chemicals, even the alkylphenols,
which are already being phased out in Europe.
The US National Academy of Sciences published
a report on 'Hormonally Active Agents in the Environment' in
July 1999. The full text is available here,
though it's in a format which forces you to load the pages one
at a time, and is very slow.
The OECD has a programme on endocrine disrupters,
mainly focusing on development of testing procedures. More
information on their site.
The UN is currently negotiating a global
treaty covering certain persistent organic pollutants (POPs),
including PCBs, Dioxin and DDT, with criteria for adding new
chemicals. There's more information on the UNEP
POPs site. A similar agreement, the POPs protocol, has already
been negotiated among the UN Economic Commission for Europe -
more information on the here.
The International POPs Elimination Network is an NGO coalition
against POPs - their site is here.
It has taken some time for industry to
wake up to the significance of the problems of hormone disrupting
toxicity. Most relevant industry associations have issued statements
about hormone disrupting chemicals, generally stating their concern,
calling for more research before action and trying to claim that
the effects are not likely to be significant when compared to
phytoestrogens. Some companies have stopped using suspect chemicals,
whilst others will probably continue using them unless they are
banned (see examples on other pages).
The industry on a global level has initiated
a research programme; the quality of this research and how useful
it will be are questions that remain to be answered. Industry
has an unpleasant habit of designing research to protect its
products. One anonymous academic said to the journal ENDS
"Industry do studies that muddy
things up - they confuse the issues - then you have to go back
and start over again. I would not accept their funding unless
it came through an independent medium" (ENDS, 1999)
A cynical student of industry PR techniques
might see interesting parallels between the industry approach
to endocrine disrupting chemicals and a campaign strategy leaked
to Friends of the Earth from the UK Society of Motor Manufacturers
and Traders - available