Enhesa - Global EHS & Product Compliance Assurance

Regulating endocrine disrupting chemicals - a success story?

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Are you aware of which substances are classified as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC)? Do you carry out any operations involving EDC?

These are the types of questions that are being considered by many companies in light of significant consumer, government and industry concern for EDC. In order to further delve into this topic, several companies and organisations attended an Enhesa webinar on EDC on the 27 January or 2 February 2010. What this webinar addressed was that regardless of the controversial nature of the scientific research, countries are still proposing and adopting measures that regulate how certain priority EDC are used. The focus was on Canada, which is especially relevant because it has been particularly systematic and comprehensive in promoting measures to regulate the use of key EDC. However, for the purposes of comparison, a consideration of how the US and the EU are dealing with these substances was also discussed. North American and the European Union have taken the upper hand globally in attempting to classify, assess and regulate potentially harmful EDC.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) it has adopted the following working definition for an EDC and a potential EDC as agreed upon by an OECD Workshop hosted by the European Union and World Health Organization in Weybridge, UK in December 1996:

“An endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC) is an exogenous substance that causes adverse health effects in an intact organism, or its progeny, consequent to changes in endocrine function.”

“A potential endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC) is a substance that possesses properties that might be expected to lead to endocrine disruption in an intact organism.”

While a clear definition has been developed and accepted on the international level, it is less clear which substances can actually be classified to fit into this definition. Various jurisdictions and organisations have been attempting to identify those chemicals which are endocrine disrupting. One of the earliest examples of a substances being classified as an endocrine disrupter in humans with direct restrictive regulation resulting is diethylstilbestrol (DES), a synthetic oestrogen prescribed in the 1950s and 1960s to five million pregnant women for the prevention of spontaneous abortion. It was found that some of the children who had been exposed in the uterus had developmental abnormalities, and that some of the girls developed an unusual form of vaginal cancer when they reached puberty. As a consequence, DES was banned in the 1970s.

Since that time, there have been many attempts to develop a concrete listing of EDC. The main difficulty with this task is the lack of scientific consensus. However, upon examination of the various lists generated from a range of countries and organizations, there is widespread agreement on some of the most common EDC. Most persistent organic pesticides (POPs) and similar organic contaminants like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), and dioxins are considered to be endocrine disrupting. Natural and synthetic hormones like estrogen and estradiol are also included on most lists. Pesticides, plasticizers, surfactants and other industrial chemicals such as phthalates, bisphenol A, carbon tetrachloride, nonylphenol, and the food antioxidant butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) are some of the most relevant EDC under current attention. In addition, metals such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury are contended to have endocrine disrupting properties.

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