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26 February 2015

Endocrine disrupters: EU Council backs legal action against Commission

On 29 January 2015 the EU Council of Ministers decided to back Sweden in taking the European Commission to the European Court of Justice. The European Parliament could throw its weight in - 11 MEPs keenly interested in environmental and health issues have sent Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis a strongly worded letter urging him to adopt science-based criteria for regulating endocrine disruptors.

The Council spokesperson reports that this was a majority decision, with no state voting against and just a few abstentions.

The dispute concerns chemicals known as endocrine disruptors, which affect hormone production and are implicated in a host of diseases in exposed workers and the general public. These include an alarming rise in breast cancers in women and male prostate cancers. Endocrine disruptors also have transgenerational actions – the children of exposed mothers or fathers can suffer from genetic defects, growth disorders, poor developmental outcomes, childhood cancers, etc.

Sweden first decided to take the European Commission to court back in May 2014 for its failure to adopt the criteria for defining endocrine disrupters without which two European regulations on biocides and plant health products cannot be implemented. The Commission was meant to have adopted these criteria and an overall strategy on endocrine disruptors before the end of 2013. It did not do so, not least because of active lobbying by various chemical industry interests, in particular pesticide and plastics manufacturers. A study published by the Nordic Council (comprising Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark) in November 2014 highlighted the huge costs of failing to act on endocrine disruptors, arguing that a big share of costs related to male reproductive health disorders could be put down to these chemicals.

"The Council of Ministers’ decision has a big symbolic importance. It shows that where chemical hazards are concerned, alliances can be forged to counter the Commission's policy which is bowing to industrial pressure and putting public health, workplace health and safety and environmental protection on the line. Hopefully, the Council will show the same grit when deciding on the stalled revision of the Directive on protecting workers against carcinogens", said European Trade Union Institute researcher Laurent Vogel.

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