EurActiv  [Printer-friendly version]
November 8, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The leading British medical journal 'The
Lancet' calls for the EU's draft REACH regulation to protect unborn
children against possible brain-development disorders caused by
industrial chemicals.]


Chemicals Policy review (REACH)

Biomonitoring in health & environment policy-making


The EU's draft REACH law on chemical safety enters Parliament for a
crucial second reading on 12 December 2006. It will then need approval
by the EU Council of Ministers before it becomes law.

REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals)
proposes that manufacturers and importers of chemicals produce health
and safety tests for around 30,000 of the 100,000 substances currently
on the EU market. The screening process would be spread over an 11-
year period, starting with chemicals produced or imported in high


Exposure to industrial chemicals such as pesticides and solvents could
cause neurodevelopment disorders in one in every six children,
according to an article published today (8 November) by 'The
Lancet', a leading peer-reviewed medical journal.

But the author of the article, Dr Philippe Grandjean, told EurActiv
that the EU's draft REACH regulation would fail properly to address
the issue. The bill is scheduled to be voted in Parliament in December
with possible final adoption before the end of the year.

"REACH is incomplete because it does not take neurodevelopmental
disorders into account," said Grandjean, who works at the department
of environmental medicine at the University of Southern Denmark.

Brain disorders that Grandjean says could be caused by chemicals
include autism, learning disabilities, sensory defects, mental
retardation and abnormal muscle tone disorder (cerebral palsy).

Grandjean said preventive measures are currently hampered by the high
level of proof required before chemicals are regulated. Recognition of
risk and subsequent prevention programmes are often successful but
were initiated "only after substantial delays", he said.

And, according to Grandjean, such delays call for a new precautionary
approach that recognises "the unique vulnerability of the developing
brain" when testing and controlling chemicals.

There are 201 chemicals that are known to be toxic to brain
development. However, Grandjean says that "the number of chemicals
that can cause neurotoxicity in laboratory studies probably exceeds

"Of the chemicals most commonly used in commerce, fewer than half have
been subjected to even token laboratory testing. The few substances
proven to be toxic to human neurodevelopment should therefore be
viewed as the tip of a very large iceberg."

"Perhaps [EU lawmakers] could include a sentence to extend REACH to
developmental neurotoxicity," said Grandjean. "The problem is serious
enough to get started."

The Lancet paper singled out 201 chemicals known to cause clinical
neurotoxic effects in adults but which Grandjean said "can damage
children's developing brain at much lower levels". These include
metals and inorganic compounds, organic solvents and pesticides.


The European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) said it agreed that
chemicals "can create certain risk to human health as it was shown
with some pesticides, with asbestos or arsenic".

But it argues that the chemicals are often found at levels so low that
it is impossible to tell whether they pose a threat or not. "There is
no convincing evidence that exposure to environmental levels of
synthetic chemicals are an important cause of cancer or other
diseases," CEFIC said. Moreover, it points out that "children are
leading healthier lives than at any time in history", partly thanks to

Answering the critics, Dr Grandjean admitted that "our understanding
of these neurodevelopmental disorders is largely unknown" and that
further research is needed to explore direct causal links between
exposure and illness. But he says that "the problem is serious enough
to get started".

"This is a typical case where the precautionary principle should
apply," said Grandjean.

Latest & next steps:

12 December 2006: Parliament expected to vote on REACH (second
reading). It then needs to be approved by the EU Council of Minister
before it becomes law. If the Council does not approve the
Parliament's position in second reading in full, a special
conciliation committee will be convened to iron out remaining
divergences. This would be a last-resort scenario as, in theory,
conciliation committees' decisions could result in the whole
legislation being dropped if divergences persist.


EU official documents

Commission (DG Enterprise): The new EU chemicals legislation --

Commission (DG Environment): REACH

Commission (DG Environment): Q&A on REACH

Commission (DG Environment): Fact sheet: REACH -- a new chemicals
policy for the EU

EU Actors positions

European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC): Position on biomonitoring
and human health

European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC): Position on Children
Health & Environment

The Lancet: Press release -- A precautionary approach should be taken
to protect pregnant women and children against industrial chemicals
(8 Nov. 2006)

The Lancet: Full article -- Developmental neurotoxicity of industrial
chemicals (8 Nov. 2006)

Copyright EurActiv 2000-2005