Recent developments in sustainability legislation have brought a new focus to the use of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the consumer product industry. Previously deemed innocuous, governments are now taking decisive action to highlight the dangers associated with endocrine disruptors and limit their utilisation within manufacturing processes.
Endocrine Disruptors, also known as hormonally active agents, encompass a range of natural and synthetic chemicals capable of interfering with endocrine systems in both humans and animals. They surround us in everyday life and are present in products from furniture, children’s toys, and air fresheners.
The health implications of endocrine disruptors
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) has conducted extensive research, revealing that exposure to these substances can yield severe consequences for both developing children and adults.
Additionally, they accumulate in waste streams following product disposal and unsafe chemical handling during manufacturing, further disrupting natural processes within ecosystems and wildlife. Some effects of endocrine disruptors include
- Altering hormone levels
- Affecting the nervous and immune systems
- Affecting thyroid function
- Imitating a body’s natural hormone
- Interfering with hormone signalling pathways
- Converting one hormone into a different hormone
- Binding to essential hormones
- Signalling certain cells to die prematurely
- Competing with the nutrients required for bodily functions
This, in turn, can lead to a range of health issues, including
- Heart disease
- Fertility problems
- Diminished sperm quality and count in males
- Impaired female reproduction and miscarriage in females
Legislative background of endocrine disruptors
In 2018, the European Union (EU) took a significant step by banning the use of endocrine disruptors in cosmetics, aiming to mitigate risks to human health and the environment. Nonetheless, these substances remain prevalent in consumer products worldwide.
According to the EU within their Chemical Strategy for Sustainability (EUR-Lex – 52020DC0667), “The exposure of humans and the environment to endocrine-disrupting chemicals requires specific attention. The EU regulatory system needs to be consolidated and simplified to ensure that endocrine disruptors are recognized promptly, with measures in place to minimize exposure to humans and the environment. The Commission will propose unified criteria for identifying endocrine disruptors and will restrict their use in consumer products as soon as they are identified, permitting their use only when essential for society.” (europa.eu)
Endocrine disruptors have also been specifically addressed in France’s AGEC (Anti-Waste and Circular Economy) law. In this legislation, the French government aims to provide consumers with information about the presence of endocrine disruptors in products.
Companies marketing products containing these substances are obligated to publish a list of such products and the specific substances they contain. This came into effect in January 2022.
Within this legislation, the government underscores the vulnerability of infants to endocrine-disrupting substances by stating that “babies are particularly vulnerable to any endocrine disrupting substance. Food represents an important source of exposure to endocrine disruptors, in particular via migration from food containers. In paediatrics, obstetrics, maternity wards and perinatal centres, plastic containers intended for heating or cooking baby food will be prohibited. This would concern, for example, food trays or plastic baby bottles.” This mandate will come into effect from January 1st, 2025.
In the past, debates over the criteria for identifying these substances have hindered the effectiveness of restrictions. However, in recent developments, France has taken proactive steps by tasking ANSES, a group of nine government-funded laboratories, with compiling and categorising endocrine disruptors as either confirmed or suspected.
On the 12th October 2023, the French Minister of Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion published several decrees whereby a list of substances with endocrine disrupting properties was established. The order requires manufacturers, of any consumer product, to inform customers about the presence of such substances for each product by open format electronic means, ideally a product barcode which can be scanned by customers. Failure to comply could result in the recall of their products or becoming subject to enforcement actions by the Market Surveillance Authorities. All products must be tested accordingly.
Commonly used endocrine disruptors
Some common examples of widely used endocrine disruptors include
- Altrazine; found in herbicides and pesticides
- Bisphenol A (BPA); found in food storage containers, water bottles, baby bottles and plastic manufacture
- Dioxins; a by-product of smelting, bleaching, herbicide, and pesticide production
- Perchlorate; found in fireworks, fertilisers, and vehicle airbags
- Per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances; used in the aerospace and automotive industries, construction, electronics, non-stick coatings, fire extinguishing foam, food packaging, and personal care products
- Phthalates; found in plastic products, personal care products, and pharmaceuticals
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE); found in flame-retardants, electrical equipment, coatings, textiles, and furniture padding
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); found in electrical equipment, paints, plastics, and dyes
- Triclosan; found in antimicrobials, and personal care products such as toothpaste and mouthwash
Seeking sustainable alternatives?
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