European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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9 November 2016

New ETUI publication: better understanding the effects of endocrine disruptors on workers’ health.

Since the 1950s the number of chemical molecules developed in the laboratories of major petrochemical companies has exploded. At the same time, the incidence of cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, cognitive or behavioural disorders in children, and auto-immune diseases has risen dramatically. More and more European citizens are seeing a link between these two phenomena. Yet certain scientists started having this same intuition years ago.

In Endocrine disruptors: an occupational risk in need of recognition, journalist Marie-Anne Mengeot and two ETUI researchers tell the story of these brave “whistle-blowers” and their fight to highlight the dangers. Two of them (both women) – Rachel Carson and Theo Colborn – were the first to reveal the consequences of the widespread use of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) for wildlife and subsequently for the human race.

In the 1990s, their research started questioning conventional toxicology, according to which it is the dose which makes something poisonous. Contradicting this wisdom, they showed that certain chemical substances could have harmful effects at low doses. Greeted with scepticism or even contempt by the scientific community, these discoveries have since been confirmed. It is now admitted that exposure to substances disrupting our hormonal balance can seriously impact health, in particular when it occurs at key development moments (in utero, during early childhood).

Scientific evidence on the effects of EDCs exposure on fertility and the intellectual development of children is mounting up. Many workers are subject to twofold exposure, both at work and in the environment. The problem seems to be particularly acute in sectors exposed to pesticides, such as the agri-food sector.

Faced with this major health problem, authorities in several European countries have reacted. Their repeated pressuring of the European Commission, long characterised by its wait-and-see attitude, ended last June in the presentation of criteria defining endocrine disruptors.

Environmental organisations, consumer protection agencies and unions are of the opinion that the Commission’s proposal does not go far enough, as it allows substances with endocrine disruption effects demonstrated in animals to be put on the market. The text must still be approved at national level. The authors of this guide are calling for mobilisation against endocrine disruptors. It will be available in English by the end of 2016.

To download (in French, free):

Mengeot, M.A., Perturbateurs endocriniens : un risque professionnel à (re)connaître, ETUI, novembre 2016

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