In a critique recently published in The Lancet, Andreas Kortenkamp et al, Brunel University, London, has expressed disappointment over the proposed new amendments of the European Union (EU) pesticide law, asking for a relaxation over trade of pesticides, biocides and endocrine-disruptor chemicals (EDCs). He and others believe, with the approval of the proposed EU regulation amendments, the European Commission has missed the opportunity to develop new regulatory standards against EDCs.

EDCs are chemicals which, at certain doses, can affect your endocrine system, develop cancerous tumors and cause birth defects and other neurodevelopmental delays in children. These disruptors can damage any system in the body that is regulated by hormones. EDCs are mostly man-made; one example is biocide – a pesticide that destroys or renders any damaging organism harmless by chemical or biological means, such as hand-disinfectant and plant protection products (i.e., agrochemicals). Other examples include metals, food additives or contaminants and personal care products.

The EU has a complex risk-assessment process that scrutinizes all chemicals used as pesticides and biocides before granting approval. Unless these chemicals pass the safety level of exposure, they do not receive an official endorsement. However, a hazard-based exclusion clause of the law either does not grant approval or scrutinize a number of substances such as mutagens, carcinogens, EDs and reproductive toxicants.  To avoid their exposure through food, these substances are generally and completely refused approval. Nevertheless, there are exemptions, pesticides can still attain approval if exposure is negligible. As for biocides, they too can enjoy scrutiny-free approval since there is no exposure or risk via food.

The proposed amendments to the recently-published EU pesticide law allow free commerce of EDCs. What prompted the critique from Andreas, however, is the proposed amendment in the EU pesticide law which demands a relaxation for biocides and EDCs in pesticides. He and others believe the new amendment is a violation of the law’s hazard-based exclusion clause. If the amendment is approved, EDCs will be treated less restrictively than mutagens, carcinogens, and reproductive toxicants. In fact, an approval will put them in the same category as other pesticides that undergo regular scrutiny for approval which will be problematic as pesticides are considered less hazardous than carcinogens, mutagens, EDCs and reproductive toxicants.

Andreas believes such an approval is a health hazard since exposure to EDCs via food will continue to occur, leading to a variety of endocrine-disrupting effects in the body. For instance, organophosphate chlorpyrifos, an EDC, can affect thyroid hormone concentrations in the body which can lead to neurodevelopmental disorders in the growing fetus, severely affecting its IQ and brain structure. Pesticides, on the other hand, can suppress male hormone functions, leading to a compromised sexual development in fetuses.

Consequently, Andreas and colleagues vehemently reject the new amendment, saying, “Should these proposals be adopted, many endocrine disrupters with human exposure will escape identification, thus eroding the high level of protection enshrined in the EU pesticide and biocide laws, and violating the demand for scientifically based endocrine disrupter criteria.”

The European Commission has listed four regulatory criteria to define EDCs. Of these four, the third criterion, which allowed differentiation between known, presumed and suspected EDCs, was favored the most. The new amendments, however, support the second criterion which differs from how carcinogens, mutagens, EDCs and reproductive toxicants are currently categorized in EU law.

The criteria, currently in draft form, will become official if approved by the European Commission under relevant procedures, which include engaging member states and other EU institutions. However, comments and critiques are welcome until the criteria become official.