Endocrine disruptors : a researcher from Grenoble scolds Brussels

sep article

Notre indépendance c

FOCUS – Endocrine disruptors are still not regulated in Europe. While Brussels calls upon a lack of scientific consensus to justify its inactivity, researchers intervene. For the epidemiologist from Grenoble, Rémy Slama, whose research showed the link between some of these chemical substances and obesity in young boys, nothing prevents us from controlling these molecules, which are dangerous for health. If we were to lobby the industrialists…




La commission européenne traine des pieds pour définir et, derrière, réglementer les perturbateurs endocriniens. DR

The European Commission is drag­ging its feet in defi­ning and, the­re­fore, regu­la­ting endo­crine dis­rup­tors. DR

As the European Commission are reluc­tant to define and clas­sify endo­crine dis­rup­tors, blo­cking any pos­si­bi­lity of regu­la­ting these che­mi­cals, which are said to inter­fere with the func­tio­ning of hor­mones in humans and ani­mals, seven inde­pendent resear­chers, inclu­ding the epi­de­mio­lo­gist from Grenoble, Rémy Slama, are inter­ve­ning*.


Brussels had until December 2013 to present this infa­mous scien­ti­fic cri­te­ria, pre­re­qui­site in an ope­ra­tio­nal defi­ni­tion of these che­mi­cal mole­cules that act as hor­mo­nal lures in the orga­nism. Seeing nothing coming, the European Court of Justice even scol­ded Brussels in December 2015..


“At European level, the cur­rent issue, in order to allow the appli­ca­tion of laws on pes­ti­cides and bio­cides, which can no lon­ger be pla­ced on the mar­ket, calls for an offi­cially reco­gni­zed defi­ni­tion of endo­crine dis­rup­tors”, explains Rémy Slama, Research Director of Inserm at the Institute Albert Boniot in Grenoble. “In Europe, there is a defi­ni­tion of car­ci­no­gens and repro­toxic sub­stances, but not of endo­crine dis­rup­tors.”




The excuse for the lack of scientific consensus



Why this inac­ti­vity ? A lack of scien­ti­fic consen­sus, the European Commissioner for health replied. An excuse that woke up the resear­chers. Seven of them expres­sed them­selves in an article publi­shed in the scien­ti­fic jour­nal, Environmental Health Perspectives, on Monday 25th April, 2016. Environmental Health Perspectives.


A defi­ni­tion of endo­crine dis­rup­tors has exis­ted since 2002 ; it is that of the World Health Organization. According to WHO, an endo­crine dis­rup­tor is “a sub­stance or exo­ge­nous mix­ture that changes the func­tion of the endo­crine sys­tem [or hor­mo­nal sys­tem] and which, accor­din­gly, has adverse effects on the health of an intact orga­nism, or its off­spring, popu­la­tions or popu­la­tion sub-groups.”


De nombreux pesticides ont des effets de perturbateurs endocriniens. Crédit Fotolia

Numerous pes­ti­cides have endo­crine dis­rup­ting effects. © Fotolia


Classification ? It should be simple to set up, model­led on that of car­ci­no­gens, with set­tings from “defi­nite endo­crine dis­rup­tors”, to “active endoc­tri­no­lo­gi­cal sub­stances”, inclu­ding “sus­pec­ted endo­crine dis­rup­tors’.


The legis­la­tive fra­me­work is in place. Two laws were pas­sed in 2009 and 2012, res­pec­ti­vely on pes­ti­cides and bio­cides. But, due to the lack of ope­ra­tio­nal defi­ni­tion of endo­crine dis­rup­tors, it was impos­sible to imple­ment the regu­la­tions. In short, a vicious circle…




Hundreds of endo­crine dis­rup­tors at large



In the mean­time, hun­dreds of sub­stances flood the pes­ti­cide, plas­tic and cos­me­tic mar­kets each year. Some have been regu­la­ted. DDT and PCBs have been pro­hi­bi­ted since 1972 and 1987. Six phtha­lates have been ban­ned from chil­dren’s toys, yet one is still used in the cos­me­tic indus­try. Bisphenol A, has theo­re­ti­cally been ban­ned in food contai­ners since 2015. A case-by-case policy, which, if it plays in the hands of the indus­tria­lists, seems to attach lit­tle impor­tance to the sani­tary urgency.


Researchers are in no doubt about the risks to health. Congenital defor­ma­tions, disor­ders of neu­ro­lo­gi­cal deve­lop­ment or beha­viour, breast can­cer, dia­betes…


Research coor­di­na­ted by the Inserm team of envi­ron­men­tal epi­de­mio­logy and the Grenoble-Alpes uni­ver­sity, has poin­ted out the role of para­bens and tri­clo­san during pre­gnancy. According to the Grenoble resear­chers, expo­sure to these endo­crine dis­rup­tors could sti­mu­late obe­sity in unborn chil­dren, with the risk of them deve­lo­ping dia­betes in the lon­ger term.


The effects of expo­sure to endo­crine dis­rup­tors on health are just star­ting to be known. But costs would amount to bet­ween 100 and 200 bil­lion euros in Europe.


Remy Slama, directeur de recherches Inserm à l'Institut Albert Bonniot de Grenoble vient de montrer les risques de la pollution pour la santé

Remy Slama. © Inserm

That means it is still impos­sible to know the exact num­ber of endo­crine dis­rup­tors. “There are pro­ba­bly hun­dreds, inclu­ding a cer­tain num­ber used as pes­ti­cides in Europe,” says Rémy Slama. “Unlike research on can­cer, there is no offi­cial body in charge of offi­cially iden­ti­fying these sub­stances, in par­ti­cu­lar, because there is no defi­ni­tion.”


The defi­ni­tion is, the­re­fore, the key to the sys­tem, and in the cor­ri­dors of the European Commission, the fight rages on. In 2013, the Environment Directorate sug­ges­ted cri­te­ria to define endo­crine dis­rup­tors, before juris­dic­tion was relin­qui­shed, in favour of its coun­ter­part in health.


Since then, the cri­te­ria momen­ta­rily grew, making way for envi­ron­men­tal research, which never ceases to amaze resear­chers. The research results are expec­ted before sum­mer, 2016.


“An impact study will quan­tify the cost of health care, the num­ber of cases of disease, the pos­sible eco­no­mic cost, and socie­tal mea­sures, and then com­pare it to the pre­vious situa­tion”, explains Rémy Slama. “This is mea­ning­ful before put­ting a law in place, but the laws were pas­sed in 2009 and 2012. Above all, thin­king that an impact study could pro­vide a scien­ti­fic defi­ni­tion is abso­lute non­sense.”


With the excep­tion of the sug­ges­tion that this impact study could influence the choice of a defi­ni­tion, more or less wide, of what an endo­crine dis­rup­tor is… “Europe is the first major eco­nomy to have put a stra­tegy in place, and a set of laws, which speak of endo­crine dis­rup­tors as such. There is real legis­la­tion, but it is not applied.”



Patricia Cerinsek



*The authors of this article are asso­cia­ted with Inserm, the Grenoble Alpes University, the CNRS and the French National Natural History Museum ; the CHU in Liège (Belgium); the University of Nottingham and the Brunel University in London (UK); the University of Turin (Italy) and the University of Massachusetts (USA).





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