Exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (ECDs) may be costing up to €31bn per year in the European Union (EU), according to the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL).
The group wants official methods for identifying and categorising EDCs, a timetable by which they must be identified, the tests to identify them made mandatory and safer alternatives phased in.
The technical report compiles a cost calculation for a list of diseases and conditions that are related to the human endocrine system.
Food and beverage role
Lisette van Vliet, senior policy advisor for HEAL, said there needs to be a reduction across the board.
“I wouldn’t want food and beverage contact materials suppliers and producers to think that because their materials are only one of several sources of exposure they don’t need to act,” she told FoodQualityNews.com.
“The €31bn is not laid solely at the feet of the food and beverage industry but these costs are very relevant to the industry as people’s exposure from food and beverage contact materials is high up the list.
“The food contact material framework regulation has a major gap as it doesn’t deal with non intentionally added substances.”
Conditions include reproductive and fertility problems, abnormalities of the penis and testicles in baby boys, cancer of the breast, prostate, testes, children’s behavioural disorders, such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obesity and diabetes.
Environmental economist Dr Alistair Hunt of University of Bath and Dr Julia Ferguson, Visiting Fellow at the UK’s Cranfield School of Management produced an estimate of costs in the EU based on cost figures available for the above conditions.
Their technical report puts costs for the selected endocrine-related diseases and conditions at €636 – €637.1bn per year.
Only a proportion of this figure can be attributed to EDC exposure since major contributors include genetics and lifestyle factors, such as diet, smoking or insufficient physical activity.
HEAL said it is possible that 2-5% would be a realistic proportion and added that while it is speculation, in the absence of more scientific work on what proportion of diseases could be attributed to EDC exposure, the hypothetical figure can be instructive for policy makers.
There are clear reasons to get rid of bisphenol A (BPA), said van Vliet.
“BPA has been shown to have an effect in small amounts at critical windows of development. BPA is used in food contact materials that every woman of child bearing age is exposed to and hence the baby is exposed during pregnancy,” she said.
“We believe there is sufficient evidence to show we are past the precautionary stage and into the prevention phase for certain EDC chemicals, even if but we are not yet at the final conclusions about harm as we are with substances like asbestos.
“We understand this EDC phase out in food contact materials cannot be done immediately. We need a system to ensure, first that endocrine disrupting chemicals are identified and taken off the market, and then new ones are not put on the market in the first place.”
Hormone disrupting chemicals, also known as endocrine disrupting chemicals include BPA which is used in polycarbonate plastic and an epoxy resin for internal coating of cans, some phthalates and Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) found in food packaging and propyl and butyl parabens which are food additives.
Some EU countries like Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France and Sweden have taken action, for example on BPA in food contact materials, or other substances.
EU policy change such as phasing out the hazardous substances and promoting safer alternatives could save Europeans up to €31bn each year in health costs and lost productivity.
While it was long accepted that “the dose makes the poison” (the concentration of the chemical determines the severity of its effect), HEAL said EDCs have characteristics that contradict this.
Low doses may be more harmful than higher doses in certain circumstances, critical windows of exposure exist, the combined effects of EDCs may be greater than EDCs acting alone, effects from exposure of the current generation may be carried on to the next and later generations.