11 July 2003 15:59 [Source: ICIS news]
LONDON (CNI)--The European Commission (EC) on Friday outlined how its policies for chemicals testing and children's health were linked.
Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said that the new EC environment and health strategy - an initiative also termed Scale (science, children, awareness, legislation and evaluation) - has a broader perspective than the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals (Reach) proposals, but that the initiatives were linked. She was speaking today at the first Scale stakeholders meeting in Brussels.
The EC admits it is moving into uncharted territory in attempting to link health effects in children to the impact of mixtures, or "cocktails" of chemicals in different envirnonments. To address that complexity the Scale initiative involves the environment, health, and research directorates.
"The exact relationship and interaction between the environment and health is unknown territory," Wallstrom said. "We simply do not have the full picture of what precisely is causing diseases linked to environmental factors, which have dramatically increased in frequency over the last few decades".
The Scale initiative focuses on children’s health in the run-up to the fourth pan-European environment and health ministerial conference, to take place in Budapest, Hungary, in June 2004. At the conference, the EC hopes to present an action plan for 2004-2010 that addresses key children’s health issues and the impact of exposure to chemicals in the environment.
Preliminary estimates by WHO (World Health Organisation) suggest that almost one third of the global burden of disease can be attributed to environmental risk factors, Wallstrom told today's meeting. Over 40% of this burden falls on children under five years of age, even though they make up only about 10% of the world's population, she continued.
"The conclusion we have drawn is that we must expand the scope of environmental action, ranging from the health implications of low-level exposure over a period of time to the cocktail effect of a number of different pollutants," she said.
The stakeholder dialogue that began today will lead to working groups taking part in a consultative forum in September, and regional conferences in October in Poland, Italy and Brussels.
Wallstrom said the environment and health strategy would be implemented in cycles, initially focusing on four priority diseases: childhood respiratory diseases, asthma and allergies; neuro-developmental disorders; childhood cancer; and endocrine disrupting effects. These illnesses are linked to environmental factors, such as indoor and outdoor air quality, dioxins, heavy metals, endocrine disrupters, electromagnetic fields and the urban environment, she maintained.
The European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), said it supported the science-based approach outlined in the strategy but it voiced serious concerns about the implementation of Scale and the broad assumptions regarding chemicals as environmental pollutants and hazards to children’s health put forward by the EC. Essentially, its focus is on the adoption of a science-based approach under Scale that will look at environmental factors other than chemicals that might impinge on children’s health.
Cefic suggested that Scale should not pre-judge the outcome of research being carried out under the auspices of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to develop a workable testing mechanism on endocrine disruption. It added that endocrine disruption was a process and not in itself an end point of exposure to certain substances.
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