Regulation of endocrine disrupting chemicals in the EU
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with hormonal systems and thereby can produce harmful effects in humans and wildlife. In the environment, effects that may be related to endocrine disruption have been reported in molluscs, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals. Studies in humans suggest that endocrine disruptors may be responsible for changes seen in recent decades such as declining sperm counts, increased numbers of genital malformations in males, and increasing rates of certain types of hormone-sensitive cancers. This article looks at the concerns relating to substances thought to have ED properties, how ED properties are evaluated and the regulatory changes intended to restrict the use of ED substances. The implication of these changes on the use of chemicals is also discussed.
THE ENDOCRINE SYSTEM – WHY IS THERE A CONCERN?
The endocrine system is a complex network of hormone-secreting glands responsible for controlling a wide variety of physiological processes including growth, metabolism, development and reproduction. The potential for environmental chemicals to interact with and disrupt the normal function of the endocrine system (‘endocrine disruption’) in wildlife has been recognised for many years (1). There is also increasing concern about a link between human health effects such as reduced fertility, increased cancer rates and exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals such as phthalates and bisphenol A present in the environment, food and household or personal care products (2, 3, 4). Activities in this area include the identification of chemicals having ED effects, the extent of human exposure to ED substances, the mechanisms by which they interfere with normal hormonal systems, and the potential for low-dose effects that may not be covered by standard approaches to chemical risk assessment. The EU has had a strategy on endocrine disruptors since 1999; endocrine disruptors are also a focus of the ...