Today the European Commission produced a proposal that will fail to protect | Breast Cancer UK

News: European Commission crushes expectations on regulation of EDCs

Published 15 Jun 2016

Today the European Commission produced a proposal that will fail to protect EU citizens from exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) linked to breast cancer.

The Commission’s proposed criteria for identifying EDCs are based on the World Health Organisation (WHO) definition of an EDC, without any reference to potency: “exogenous compounds or mixtures that alter function(s) of the endocrine system and consequently cause adverse effects in an intact organism, or its progeny, or (sub)populations”. This definition is used by the majority of scientists and we support its adoption as part of EDC criteria - so far, so good.

However, the Commission has adopted only part of the WHO definition by stating that substances must be shown to have an adverse effect on human health. This means that a chemical which is known to have an adverse effect on wildlife, but for which research has not yet been undertaken to show its impact on humans, will slip through regulations. The burden of proof should be on industry to show that the chemicals they use are safe.

The proposed criteria also neglect the additional WHO definition for “potential endocrine disruptors”. Using only the definition for confirmed EDCs does not reflect the state of the science and would exclude all substances that need to be further investigated to determine whether they are EDCs or not.

The world’s leading scientific report on the State of the Science of EDCs 2012, published by the World Health Organisation and United Nations Environment Programme, highlights the global threat to human health and ecosystems from exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals.[1] Therefore, we need to be able to distinguish between scientifically verified and potential endocrine disrupting chemicals and monitor these until more evidence can establish their true status.

European regulations on pesticides and biocides require the European Commission to establish scientific EDC criteria, which will also likely be applied to cosmetics and industrial chemicals regulations. EDCs are thought to be linked to numerous health problems, including an increased risk of breast cancer, and we are exposed to many known or suspected EDCs every day. Defining criteria for identifying them is the first step to ensuring EDCs are properly regulated and removed from products.

Despite the hard work and dedication of campaigners across the EU, today’s decision represents a missed opportunity to establish the best regulatory system for reducing our exposures to hormone disrupting chemicals, and helping prevent breast cancer and other hormone-related illnesses.

The draft criteria must now be agreed by the European Council and the European Parliament. We will be campaigning for them to respect the precautionary principle and put the health of EU citizens first by rejecting the proposed criteria as it stands.


[1] UNEP and WHO (2013): State of the science of endocrine disrupting chemicals 2012 (editors: A. Bergman, J.J. Heindel, S. Jobling, K.A. Kidd and R.T. Zoeller).

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