By: Damian Carrington
Nordic Council calls on EU to ban damaging compounds found in household products that cost millions due to their harmful impact on male reproductive health. Toiletry chemicals linked to testicular cancer and male infertility cost EU millions, report says.
The hormone-mimicking chemicals used routinely in toiletries, cosmetics, medicines, plastics and pesticides cause hundreds of millions of euros of damage to EU citizens every year, according to the first estimate of their economic impact.
The endocrine disruptor compounds (EDCs) are thought to be particularly harmful to male reproductive health and can cause testicular cancer, infertility, deformation of the penis and undescended testicles.
The new report, from the Nordic Council of Ministers, focuses on the costs of these on health and the ability to work but warns that they “only represent a fraction of the endocrine-related diseases” and does not consider damage to wildlife. Another new study, published in a medical journal, showed an EDC found in anti-perspirants reduced male fertility by 30%.
The Nordic Council, representing the governments of governments of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, is demanding the European Union speeds up its plan to identify, assess and ban harmful EDCs. Sweden is already taking legal action against the EU over its missed deadlines, which it blamed on lobbying by the European chemical industry.
“I am not happy that taxpayers have to pay for the damage caused by EDCs, while industry saves money by not investigating their chemicals properly,” said Danish environment minister Kirsten Brosbøl on publication of the new report.
Michael Warhurst, of campaign group Chem Trust, said: “Companies should focus on developing and producing products that don’t contain hormone disruptors and other problem chemicals. This will give them a competitive advantage as controls on these chemicals become stricter around the world – and as consumers become more aware of this issue.”
The report, called The Cost of Inaction, uses the extensive health records collected by the Nordic countries to determine the incidence of the male reproductive health problems linked to EDCs and then uses Swedish data to estimate costs. These are extrapolated to the population of the EU’s 28 nations.
The report also assesses the proportion of the health problems attributable to EDCs, with a central estimate of 20%, leading to a conclusion that the male reproductive health problems cost the EU €592m (£470m) a year. The report states: “Minimising exposure to endocrine disruptors will not only remove distress and pain for the persons (and the wildlife) affected, it will also save the society from considerable economic costs.”
The EU, which would be the first authority in the world to regulate EDCs, is currently conducting a public consultation on a scientific method to identify the chemicals, which ends on 16 January. In 2011, the UK and German governments lobbied to EU to restrict the definition of EDCs to only the most potent chemicals, a proposal described as a “loophole” by critics.
Peter Smith, executive director for product stewardship at CEFIC, which represents the European chemical industry, said the Nordic report attribution of health problems to EDCs was “arbitrary”. He said: “The link between exposure to a chemical and an illness has not been shown in many cases. The authors themselves say they have some trouble with causality.”
Smith said the delays to EDC regulation in the EU did not suit the industry. “Nobody is happy with the delays. But we would prefer it to be permanent and right rather than temporary and wrong.” He said case-by-case rigorous assessment was needed and that any precautionary action had to be proportional to the evidence of harm.
However, Professor Andreas Kortenkamp, a human toxicologist at Brunel University London in the UK, said the epidemiological work needed to prove causation is very difficult. For example, he said, analysing links to birth defects would having taken tissue samples from mothers before they gave birth.
“Hard evidence for effects in humans is difficult to demonstrate, though there are some exceptions,” he said. “But there is very good, strong evidence from animal and cell line test systems. The chemical industry only likes to emphasis the first part of that.” He said precaution was the only safe approach and said the Nordic report was good work.
“Industry lobbying has put regulation back by 3-5 years, which was entirely the intention,” said Kortenkamp, who led a 2012 review of EDCs for the EU which found new regulations were needed. “Every year of no regulation means millions of euros to the industry. That is what it is all about.”
In 2012, the World Health Organiation and the UN environment programme published a major report on the state of EDC science, which concluded that communities across the globe were being exposed to EDCs and their associated risks and that urgent research on the health and environmental impacts was needed. Dr Maria Neira, the WHO’s director for public health and environment said at the time: “We all have a responsibility to protect future generations.” Another review in 2012 by the European Environment Agency advised “a precautionary approach to many of these chemicals until their effects are more fully understood.”