Across Europe, cities and local authorities are taking important steps to limit people's exposure to harmful endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). To put a spotlight on these initiatives and foster inspiration and opportunities for synergies, Réseau Environnement Santé (RES), EDC-Free Europe and the Baltic Environmental Forum (BEF) Germany organised a symposium in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 20 April 2023, with the support of the city and Eurométropole of Strasbourg.
The symposium brought together speakers and participants from seven different countries, including the French Minister Delegate to the Minister of Health and Prevention, representatives from four French regions and the cities of Hamburg, Helsinki, Limoges, Lyon, Nice, Riga, Stockholm and Strasbourg. Other participants included members of the European Parliament and the European Commission, civil society groups and environment and health experts from Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Poland and Sweden. The full proceedings will soon be available on Réseau Environnement Santé (RES)’ website, in English and French.
To kick off the event, French Minister Delegate in charge of Health and Prevention Agnès Firmin Le Bodo delivered a recorded speech, highlighting the health concerns associated with the exposure to endocrine disruptors. She emphasised the importance of collaboration and cooperation between stakeholders in various European countries, including at sub-national level. She outlined the numerous initiatives undertaken in France since the adoption of the first national strategy on EDCs in 2014, and drew attention to preventive measures throughout the country, in particular by fostering new partnerships with regions and local representatives.
Jeanne Barseghian, Mayor of Strasbourg, acknowledged the importance of the symposium and the mobilisation of the numerous actors across Europe involved in projects to raise awareness on EDCs and reduce people's exposure.
The health costs of exposure to EDCs are estimated to be at least 163 billion Euros per year in Europe alone. Every day of delay to take regulatory actions is a serious cause of concern.
“Millions of people continue to be exposed to health-harming endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) on a daily basis, through the food we eat, consumer goods we purchase for our homes or through our workplaces. While we wait for strong actions at EU level to prohibit the use of EDCs in consumer products and reduce people’s exposure to these chemicals, cities and local authorities play an important role in raising awareness and taking actions within their remits to protect health and the environment from these hazardous chemicals.”, explains Sandra Jen, EDC-Free Europe coordinator.
The symposium featured four panel discussions, providing an opportunity for speakers from all over Europe to exchange views on how to best protect people’s health and the environment against endocrine disruptors, and to discuss ongoing initiatives, potential synergies and lessons learned. Here is a brief summary of the discussions:
- State of play to strengthen EU regulations on EDCs and necessary complementary actions at (sub)national level
Jutta Paulus (Member of the European Parliament), Jordane Wodli (European Commission), Arne Jamtrot (Head of Unit, Chemicals Center, Environment and Health department, city of Stockholm) and Christel Lery (Regional councillor at the French Grand Est Region) discussed the ongoing changes in the EU legislative framework, including the approval of criteria for EDCs in the CLP regulation, discussions on the REACH regulation, and the proposal to ban the production and export of EU banned substances for use in third countries.
They stressed the importance of adequate and comprehensive information for both consumers and local authorities to make informed decisions regarding prevention and enhanced protection against exposure to harmful chemicals, including endocrine disruptors. Over the last 10 years, this has been a key prerequisite for the city of Stockholm in developing its “Chemicals Action Plans”.
- Prevention and protection: focus on non-persistent endocrine disruptors
André Cicolella, President at Réseau Environnement Santé (RES), highlighted the initiatives taken by RES and its partners to reduce the exposure to non-persistent endocrine disruptors, such as parabens, phthalates and bisphenols. He pointed at several studies that indicate a correlation between the reduction of the exposure to phthalates and the rate of premature births.
Dr. Marike Kolossa-Gehring, Coordinator of the HBM4EU programme and Head of Toxicology at the German Environment Agency (UBA), shared the results from the HBM4EU initiative. “People in Europe are still so highly exposed that they are not safe from the health impact caused by chemical exposure”, she explained. She also emphasised the need to work at regional level and in cities to transfer knowledge and protect citizens from exposure to harmful chemicals.
Dr. Aleksandra Rutokowska from the Medical University of Gdansk and member of the Polish Society of Endocrinology emphasised the need for more preventive actions. “The main problem with endocrine disrupting compounds is that everyone, everywhere is constantly exposed to thousands of harmful substances everyday, leading to higher risk of several diseases, such as obesity, certain types of cancer, infertility, atherosclerosis, Type 2 diabetes, and many others which continue to increase.”, she explained.
Sandrine Jouan, Coordinator of the Belgian national plan on EDCs (NAPED) presented the process through which the action plan was elaborated and adopted, as well as its three main pillars.
Yann Wehrling, Deputy president of the Île-de-France Region also highlighted the many initiatives undertaken in the implementation of the French charter Cities and territories without endocrine disruptors since 2018.
- Local actions and lessons learned from the NonHazCity project
The third panel discussion, moderated by Véronique Bertholle (Local councillor deputy to the Mayor of Strasbourg), featured Arne Jamrot (Head of Unit, Chemicals centre, city of Stockholm), Mairita Lūse (Member of the city council of Riga), Esa Nikunen (Director-General of Environment services, city of Helsinki), Lisa Kern (Member of the Parliament of the city of Hamburg) and Heidrun Fammler (Chief Executive, BEF Germany). Panellists explored the increasing synergies and networking opportunities between local authorities across Europe, with a focus on the Baltic Interreg project NonHazCity.
The speakers highlighted some of the key actions taken by local authorities to reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors: action plans on chemicals for a toxic-free life, public procurement policies promoting safer alternatives instead of products containing harmful chemicals, databases of safer alternatives and best practices, and the support to research and cooperation between cities, EU institutions, NGOs, and other projects.
Lisa Kern, Member of the Parliament of the city of Hamburg, pointed out that despite everything that can be done at national, local and city level, European legislation is key to protect all consumers and to avoid different levels of protection depending on where people live.
Heidrun Fammler (BEF Germany) presented the NonHazCity Household Check tool, a project aimed at consumers to reduce the use of toxic chemicals in their homes, and discussed its evolution into the new project LIFE ChemBee: Chemicals Ambassadors for Europe, which involves partners from Austria, Czechia, Germany, Greece, France, Finland, Poland, Portugal and Sweden.
- Lessons learned from six years of implementing the Charter of EDC-Free cities and territories in France
The French charter Cities and territories without endocrine disruptors has given rise to a wide variety of projects in the many cities, councils and regions which have endorsed it.
During this final panel, representatives from the French region Centre-Val-de-Loire and the cities of Limoges, Strasbourg, Lyon and Nice shared information on various initiatives undertaken under the adoption of the charter. These initiatives included the Zero Phthalates Operation, actions to reduce and eliminate plastic and melamine in school’s canteens, and an initiative to raise awareness of pregnant women against the exposure to endocrine disruptors.
The symposium proved to be an extremely valuable platform for sharing expertise and best practices on how local authorities are addressing the growing threat of endocrine disrupting chemicals while expecting for EU and national measures to implement the European chemical strategy for sustainability and close the current regulatory loopholes.
For more information on how the EDC-Free Europe coalition is calling for action at European, national and local level, visit our website.