Brussels, 03 Sep 2003
As evidence came to light of endocrinal changes in mammals and increased testicular cancer and lower male sperm counts, policy-makers knew action was needed. The EU's new endocrine disruptor website addresses this growing threat.
The new endocrine research website is the result of a vigorous drive by the EU to address a growing threat to animal diversity and human life. Launched in July, the site brings together detailed analysis, background research and policy initiatives on the causes and effects of endocrine disruption.
The endocrine system is a set of glands – such as the thyroid, gonads, adrenal and pituitary glands – and the hormones they produce, such as thyroxine, oestrogen, testosterone and adrenaline, which help guide the development, growth, reproduction, and behaviour of animals and human beings, according to the website produced by the Research Directorate-General.
In the 'Background information' section of the site, we find a useful definition of endocrine disrupters (ED): "[They] interfere with the functioning of the endocrine system in at least three ways: by mimicking the action of a naturally-produced hormone – such as oestrogen or testosterone – and thereby setting off similar chemical reactions in the body; by blocking the receptors in cells receiving the hormones (hormone receptors), thereby preventing the action of normal hormones; or by affecting the synthesis, transport, metabolism and excretion of hormones, thus altering the concentrations of natural hormones."
What's the story with ED?
In 1996, a landmark workshop took place in the UK bringing together around 70 scientists, policy-makers and organisations – including the World Health Organisation, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the European Chemical Industry Council – from the EU, USA and Japan to discuss a potentially grave problem: signs of endocrine disruption in birds, snails, turtles and other species could no longer be ignored.
The evidence of endocrinal changes could also be found in humans. It was thought that endocrine disrupting chemicals – found in industry, agriculture and in the environment – could be involved in declining male fertility, abnormalities of the male reproductive organs, and in female reproductive diseases.
In the 'EU activities' section on the new site, it notes that, due to heightened public concern, the Union quickly took on board the workshop's findings. By 1999, the Commission had produced a communication on a Community approach to ED that, in 2000, culminated in a short-, medium- and long-term EU strategy to counter the problem. More detail about the history of EU action against, and research on, endocrine disruption can be found on the website, along with a comprehensive list of EU-funded projects and future opportunities in this troubling field.