Senator Gilbert Barbier

It is not a very well known organization, but it plays a key role when issues of both scientific and political sensitivity are submitted to the Parliament. Composed of 18 deputies and 18 senators, the Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Choices (OPECST) aims to take stock of up-to-date knowledge in order to inform the French Parliament. It enjoys the support of a scientific council featuring 24 internationally renowned experts.

As part of on-going debates in France relating to endocrine disruptors, in approving the report submitted by Senator Gilbert Barbier, entitled Endocrine disruptors, the time for caution, the OPECST recently brought grist to the mill of those supporting stricter regulations for these substances.

Cancers and fertility problems

Concerns about endocrine disrupters find their origin in a significant, and not yet explained, increase in hormone-related diseases like some cancers and fertility problems, said the French senator. In France, the occurrence of breast cancer has doubled since 1980. It would be the same for testicular cancer in developed countries since 1970. Concerning fertility, researchers are concerned about a possible combination between the decrease by 50% of the sperm count and the increased occurrence of male genital malformations.

The report stresses that scientific data already available establish a credible causal link between these diseases and the action of endocrine disrupting substances.

However, there are still many uncertainties about particular mechanisms of action at low doses, in combination, or at specific times of life and about the different molecules involved.

Enough data for action

Despite these uncertainties, Senator Gilbert Barbier deems that the available data are sufficient to act now. He therefore proposed a series of actions to protect the most vulnerable populations, particularly babies and pregnant women, starting with a strengthening of research efforts with the aim to validate international tests allowing the detection of endocrine disrupters by 2013.

Howevern Senator Barbier mainly requires better information of consumers and advocates using dedicated signs to clearly warn pregnant and lactating women they should avoid to expose themselves and their young children to products containing endocrine disruptors. The necessity to label this logo would be submitted to the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES).

Eventually, since the time of exposure may be greater than the dose, the report reaffirms the goal to ban, at a European-wide level, the presence of endocrine disruptors in products specifically designed for pregnant and lactating women and young children.

A bill of law still pending

On the 3rd May, the French National Assembly voted in first reading, a proposition of law prohibiting the use of three types of endocrine disruptors: parabens, phthalates and alkylphenols. At the moment, the text is still in the hands of senators, waiting for a second reading.

If it states the risks linked to endocrine disruptors with no ambiguity, the OPECST report, which is merely informative, considers a possible ban on endocrine disruptors only in products intended for certain categories and recommends that to be done at European level, with no fixed deadline, and without laying down in details what substances would be involved.