by Janet Ritz
New regulations on 30,000 chemicals, currently unregulated (according to the EU report) in the United States, went into effect in the European Union on June 1st under the acronym REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals). These chemicals, known as endocrine disrupters, are suspected of "increasing rates of breast and testicular cancer, male infertility, diabetes, even obesity."
Jun. 1--COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- Are a group of modern chemicals present in everyday household products behind increasing rates of breast and testicular cancer, male infertility, diabetes and even obesity?
As new regulations on the chemicals, known as endocrine disrupters, go into effect in the European Union today, select scientists from around the globe met to share their research and growing concerns. Some of the chemicals -- found in plastic containers, dental sealants, soda and soup can linings, carpets, paints and pesticides -- remain virtually unregulated in the United States.
What is an endocrine disrupter?
Endocrine disrupters have been defined as exogenous substances that alter function(s) of the endocrine system and consequently cause adverse health effects in an intact organism, or its progeny, or (sub)populations.
Endocrine disrupters interfere with the functioning of the endocrine system, in at least three possible ways:
- by mimicking the action of a naturally-produced hormone, such as oestrogen or testosterone, and thereby setting off similar chemical reactions in the body;
- by blocking the receptors in cells receiving the hormones (hormone receptors), thereby preventing the action of normal hormones; or
- by affecting the synthesis, transport, metabolism and excretion of hormones, thus altering the concentrations of natural hormones.
Potential human health effects caused by EDCs:
- For women: Breast and reproductive organ tissue cancers, fibrocystic disease of the breast, polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, uterine fibroids and pelvic inflammatory diseases. Declining sex ratio (fewer women)
- For men: Poor semen quality (low sperm counts, low ejaculate volume, high number of abnormal sperm, low number of motile sperm), testicular cancer, malformed reproductive tissue (undescended testes, small penis size), prostate disease and other recognised abnormalities of male reproductive tissues.
- Other potential effects: impaired behavioural/mental, immune and thyroid function in developing children; osteoporosis, precocious puberty.
Okay, I'm scared.
Now, the EPA does say they regulate endocrine disruptors (wiki), but the EU claim is that they're too many not on the EPA list. But do the new EU regulations provide a solution? That's a controversial question. Some of the EU says yes. Others say it doesn't go far enough. And in the US (on both sides of the ecological spectrum), there are significant questions regarding the industry self-policing nature of the new regulatory system (more on that below).
A link to the new regulations, acronym REACH [Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals], which were adopted by the European Union in 2006, went into effect yesterday.
The European Chemical industry stands on the cusp of a revolution in regulatory controls. The new EU regulatory network, known by the acronym REACH, comes in to force from 1st June 2007, after its initial publication in the European Commission's Official Journal on 30th December 2006. The official title of the regulatory controls is: REGULATION (EC) No 1907/2006 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 18 December 2006 concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of CHemicals (REACH). REACH runs to 849 pages and replaces over 40 pre-existing laws.
The two most important aims of REACH are to improve protection of human health and the environment from the risks of chemicals, while enhancing the competitiveness of the EU's chemicals industry. REACH will require a registration, over a period of 11 years, of some 30,000 chemical substances. The registration process requires the manufacturers and importers to generate data for all chemicals substances produced or imported into the European Union above one tonne per year. The registrants must also identify appropriate risk management measures and communicate them to the users. Amongst the myriad of controls and regulations facing chemical companies will be a requirement to take cognisance of the multiple language dimension of the European Union.
As mentioned above, REACH is not without critics on both sides of the ocean and ecological fence:
EU's REACH law enters into force amid controversy
The regulation on the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) continues to evoke controversy as it enters into force on 1 June. While the chemical industry appears ready to work with the new law, environmental groups continue to lament what they see as its shortcomings.
"We have been and continue to be concerned about the REACH program for a number of reasons," said Mike Walls, managing director at the Virginia-based American Chemistry Council, the trade association that represents the U.S. chemical industry.
Walls called REACH "a very complex and complicated system," and one that is untested. "At a minimum we think it is inappropriate to look to REACH as a model when there is no experience under it."
Frederick vom Saal, an endocrinologist at the University of Missouri, was concerned about the EU program's reliance on corporations and industry.
Walls went on to say that the EPA was the correct regulatory agency for this within the U.S.
vom Saal's concern was that REACH relies too much on industry testing, as opposed to government and/or independent tests. A valid concern, given his experience with a chemical known as bisphenol-A, which was proclaimed by industry testing to be safe, but then, upon independent testing, showed up at a trace level in tested for it.
So, within the US, there seems to be a strange bedfellows moment -- independent research combined with government regulation as opposed to industry self-policing.
The question that REACH raises for the U.S. then, is not about method, as vom Saal's research seems to point to our independent model as a more secure test than industry self-policing.
There are two classes of substances which can cause endocrine disruption:
Natural hormones, which include oestrogen (responsible for female sexual development), progesterone and testosterone (=androgens: responsible for male sexual development) found naturally in the bodies of humans and animals, and phytoestrogens, substances contained in some plants, such as alfalfa sprouts and soya beans, which display oestrogen-like activity when ingested by the body. Natural hormones are believed to be easily broken down in the human body; thus they do not accumulate in body tissues, which is the case with certain man-made substances.
Man-made substances which include:
- Synthetically produced hormones, including those hormones which are identical to natural hormones, such as oral contraceptives, hormone-replacement treatment and some animal feed additives, which have been designed intentionally to interfere with and modulate the endocrine system; and
- Man-made chemicals (thousands of new and existing man-made chemicals exist) designed for uses in industry, such as in industrial cleaning agents, in agriculture, in certain pesticides, and in consumer goods such as in plastic additives. This group also includes chemicals produced as a by-product of industrial processes such as dioxins, which are suspected of interfering with the endocrine systems of humans and wildlife. Some of the potential environmental endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are persistent and ubiquitous in the environment (persistent organic pollutants – POPs ).
Here's a PDF file on chemicals suspected to be EDCs.
Here's a list of some regulated EDCs:
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxin and benzopyrene: Interfere with components in the steroid, thyroid and retinoid signalling pathways.
- Phthalates (plasticisers, e.g. in PVC).
- Bisphenol A (lacquers) [one w/ trace amounts found in EVERY American]
- Pesticides (insecticides such as DDT, endosulfan, dieldrin, methoxychlor, kepone, dicofol and toxaphene; herbicides such as alachlor, atrazine and nitrofen; fungicides such as benomyl, mancozeb and tributyl tin); nematocides such as aldicarb and dibromochloropropane).
- Ordinary household products such as alkylphenols (e.g. nonylphenol)
- Heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium).
Where the new law is now in effect:
Chemical companies wanting to sell their products in within EU will have to translate into 23 official EU languages. These are Bulgarian, Czech, Danish , Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French , German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Irish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish, Swedish
Here's a link to an analysis of five EU countries on the chemical initiative from the University of Mass - Lowell.
I have not been able to slog through all the chemical lists to confirm which are or are not on each countries yes or no column. For reference, if anyone cares to check the stuff in their kitchen cabinet:
And here's the EPA's page on chemicals regulated in the US as of October 2006.
This link is to a PDF file (5 mg) of all EPA regulated chemicals.
This link is the the EU's official REACH homepage.
Here's a link to Ed Begley Jr's FAQ page, which has a link to a natural cleanser, for those who want to clean without ECDs.