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Do risk assessments of endocrine disruptors provide sufficient protection?

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Posted February 28, 2019

Both in Denmark and internationally, there is political agreement on the need to minimize the exposure of people and the environment to endocrine disruptors. In order to legislate in a way that protects both humans and the environment, it is crucial for lawmakers to know what dose is safe.

Risk assessments of endocrine disruptors are often the subject of subsequent discussion because they are based on insufficient knowledge. One of the questions being asked is whether there is a threshold for the endocrine disrupting effects of these substances.

Baby holding hand. Image credit: RitaE | Free image via Pixabay

In a project for the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, researchers from the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, have therefore drawn up recommendations on how risk assessments can better take into account gaps in the current knowledge about the adverse effects of chemical substances.

Additional safety factor to protect the most vulnerable

The researchers recommend e.g. that if a risk assessment is based on studies of adult laboratory animals, an additional uncertainty factor must be included in the assessment. This is because the adverse effects of endocrine disrupters can be much greater when exposed during sensitive periods (in utero, as a newborn or during puberty).

The additional uncertainty factor will ensure better protection during these sensitive periods. An additional uncertainty factor may also be required because the current test methods for endocrine disrupting effects are not considered sufficiently sensitive.

Perhaps impossible to set a threshold

It is possible that—as with genotoxic carcinogens—there is no tolerable exposure limit to the various endocrine disrupters. The researchers therefore recommend that risk assessments use a non-threshold approach as default when evaluating endocrine disruptors.

In 2018, new criterias for endocrine disruptors entered into force in the EU for biocides and pesticides. The recommendations, which the National Food Institute has compiled in a new report, will—among other things—be used as Denmark’s scientific input to the EU’s ongoing work to assess the risk related to these substances.

Download the entire report on the Danish Centre for Endocrine Disrupting Substances’ website: Report on interpretation of knowledge on endocrine disrupting substances (EDs) – what is the risk?

The National Food Institute managed the project, which was carried out under the auspices of the Danish Centre for Endocrine Disrupting Substances. In the project, the institute cooperated with researchers from the Department of Biology at the University of Southern Denmark and the Department of Growth and Reproduction at Rigshospitalet. The project has also drawn on knowledge from some of Europe’s leading experts in the field of endocrine disrupters, who gathered at an international workshop to discuss risk assessment methods.

The National Food Institute conducts research into potentially harmful chemical substances and assesses the consequences with regard to food and consumer safety. Read about this work on the institute’s special topic portal on chemical influences.

Source: DTU

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