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Call for action to reduce uncertainties and risks concerning reproductive health

NEWS RELEASE Copenhagen, 17 April 1997

Call for action to reduce uncertainties and risks concerning reproductive health due to endocrine disrupters

There is increasing evidence and concern about rising trends of reproductive ill health in wildlife and humans, and some chemical substances have been implicated, but there are great uncertainties about the causes of reproductive ill health, which require an integrated European research and monitoring effort.

This is the main conclusion of a report from the European Environment Agency (EEA), the European Commission, WHO , OECD & Environment Ministries from the UK, Sweden, The Netherlands1.

Key conclusions are :

  • Sufficient evidence exists that testicular cancer rates are increasing;
  • The apparent decline in sperm counts in some countries was likely to be genuine and not attributable to methodological variables;
  • There is insufficient evidence to definitely establish a causal link between the health effects seen in humans with exposure to chemicals;
  • Compared with the situation in the USA, there are few cases of reproductive ill-health in wildlife in the EU where the effects could be definitely associated with endocrine disrupting substances (maybe we are not looking hard enough);
  • The considerable uncertainties and data gaps could be reduced by the recommendations on research and monitoring into exposure and effects in wildlife and humans - forty specific activities are proposed in the report;
  • Meanwhile, consideration should be given to reducing the exposure of humans and wildlife to endocrine disrupters in line with the "Precautionary Principle."

"Policy makers and the public need to be aware of "early warnings" about potentially serious and irreversible health and environmental hazards", said Domingo Jiménez - Beltrán, Executive Director, the European Environment Agency2. "The Agency will now be helping to develop the European-wide strategy for monitoring chemicals in the environment and in particular potential endocrine disrupting substances (EDS), focusing on particular puzzles such as why testicular cancer rates in some EU neighbouring countries, for example, Finland and Denmark3, are so different. Our future work on pooling best practice in clean production and chemical exposure reduction will help businesses and others to implement cost-effective measures for reducing any possible risks to reproductive health from these substances", said Mr Jiménez - Beltrán. As "many EDS' have toxic effects other than their potential for damaging reproductive health, precautionary action in reducing exposures to them now could produce multiple benefits."


Denmark helped initiate this "early warning" on EDS' when Professor Niels Skakkebaek published his report on the striking decline in sperm counts amongst males world wide between 1940 and 19904. "This early work has now been recognised as pointing to potentially serious health effects from Endocrine Disrupters, but as the report makes clear, we must do much more research before cause and effect can be elucidated. For example, it is possible that these reproductive problems could be caused by something other than Endocrine disrupting substances, e.g. stress and other aspects of lifestyle", said Professor Skakkebaek. "We are leading a European consortium of scientists who are trying to implement some of the report's recommendations such as an international data bank on semen quality." 5


Further information is available from David Gee at the EEA (+45) 33 36 71 42 (home 35 26 27 16); and Professor Skakkebaek at the Dept. of Growth and Reproduction Rigshospitalet, the National University Hospital of Denmark, tel (+45) 35 45 50 85 or home 42 95 85 07; Canice Nolan, European Commission, DG XII (+32 2) 296 16 33, and Philippe Bourdeau, Chair, EEA Scientific Committee, tel (+32 2) 650 43 22 / 23.


1Report from the "European Workshop on the impact of Endocrine Disrupters on Human Health and Wildlife", published by DG XII, European Commission, April 16th 1997. It is available from the European Environment Agency and the European Commission, and the UK Dept. of Environment.
It contains the conclusions and proceedings of a workshop held in Weybridge UK on December 2-4, 1996.

2The EEA was set up in 1993 in Copenhagen to provide objective, reliable and comparable information for those concerned with framing and implementing European and national environmental policy, and for the public. It is funded by the European Union but its coverage extends beyond the EU 15 countries to include Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, who are represented on the EEA Management Board, and to other countries of Central & Eastern Europe, provided the resources are made available.

3The report observed that "no adverse trend in semen quality" in Finland had been noticed; and that the "incidents of testicular cancer in Finland are four times lower than in Denmark", p.13.

4Carlsen, E., Giwercman, A., Keiding, N. & Skakkebaek, N.E. (1992) Evidence for decreasing quality of semen during past 50 years . Brit. Med. J., 305 609-613.

5The semen data bank is being developed with professor Niels Keiding of the Dept. of Biostatistics of the Panum Institute, Copenhagen.



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European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100