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Scientists and EU officials discuss threats to Europeans' hormone levels

The European Parliament recently organised a public hearing to address concerns over growing evidence that a number of chemicals loose in the environment disturb the balance of hormone levels in humans and animals.

Leading scientists at the hearing explained to Members of the...
The European Parliament recently organised a public hearing to address concerns over growing evidence that a number of chemicals loose in the environment disturb the balance of hormone levels in humans and animals.

Leading scientists at the hearing explained to Members of the European Parliament's committee for the environment, public health and consumer protection how hormonally active chemicals, termed 'endocrine disrupters' (or EDCs) can cause serious changes in the body, altering the biology of organs and causing them to malfunction.

Just one of the problems researchers report is the effect of exposure to EDCs before birth or during childhood, which may have serious ramifications for an individual's development in later life. But with studies around the world throwing different results to light, leading scientists are stressing the need for better designed prospective studies.

Dr Charles Tyler from Brunel university in the UK explained how EDCs like the organic pesticides DDT, TBT, PCBs. Phthalates and fungicides are seen to have adverse effects on wild birds, molluscs, fish, alligators and frogs. Aquatic organisms were most at risk, he said, as they take in EDCs through their skin and gills as well as from their food.

In response to the experts' calls for action to identify and list EDCs in the environment, Ms Margöt Wallstrom, European Commissioner for the Environment, described the EU's strategy on EDCs since 1999. The two main objectives are to identify problems, causes and consequences and to decide on action on the basis of the precautionary principle, she said.

In the short term, a list of substances to check could be drawn up, but legislation could only follow in a couple of years. The Commission hopes to publish a list of substances by the end of 2000. However, the Commissioner objected to a ban, because of a lack of data linking any particular form of damage to a specific chemical.
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