EU project on endocrine disruptors - wasted budget or necessary investigation?

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Endocrine disruptors

The EU announced this week the launch of a new study investigating
the effects of chemicals on the female reproductive system, however
a number of industry insiders suggest this may be a waste of the
commission's budget.

The chemicals under the spotlight of this €2.9m project are described as potential endocrine disruptors (chemicals that alter the workings of the human hormonal system) and include, amongst a wide range of chemicals, various phthalates used in cosmetic products. The three year REEF project (Reproductive Effects of Environmental Chemicals in Females) will include research teams from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research and several British Universities. This is not the first time such chemicals have been investigated. Repeated claims from environmental health scientists and interest groups have resulted in significant grant resources being fed into this area of research. A chemical witch hunt ​ However, a number of industry insiders are now saying that 'enough is enough', suggesting that the resources being ploughed into this area of research are not necessarily scientifically motivated. "There is no evidence for adverse effects of these chemicals on either male or female fertility,"​ Gerard Nohynek, a scientists working for L'Oreal's safety department told "Nevertheless, this is part of a witch hunt for so-called 'endocrine disruptors' which has gone on for about 15 years, cost millions over millions of euros and dollars, and found - nothing"​ added Nohynek, who chaired a 2006 US Society of Toxicology workshop on endocrine disruptors in cosmetics products. "But the grant money keeps flowing." ​These sentiments are echoed by Stephen Safe who has been researching endocrine disrupting chemicals since the 1970s. Safe has reviewed much of the available literature regarding changes in male semen quality and other reproductive disorders, changes in which were the initial drivers behind the hypothesis that chemicals in the environment may be acting as endocrine disruptors. New evidence refutes hypothesis ​ According to Safe, more recent data on male sperm count suggests significant regional variations that do not correlate with variation in exposure to environmental chemicals, throwing doubt on the original hypothesis. Furthermore, in Safe's analysis neither reproductive disorders nor incidences of female breast cancers correlate with exposure to such chemicals, and he 'remains sceptical of the hypothesis that these chemicals are currently having a global impact on human health'. He too is concerned about misspent resources saying that scientists and regulators can develop vested interests and become reluctant to say 'enough is enough'. "With limited funding available, this can seriously impede research that addresses more pressing environmental and human health issues." ​ According to the EU, REEF, which is set to explore the behaviour of chemicals in the embryos of mouse and sheep, will fill in an important knowledge gap in the effect of such chemicals in female, rather than male, fertility. However, for Nohynek and others, it may be time to concentrate resources elsewhere.

Related topics: Formulation & Science

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