Health groups have welcomed Belgium’s first-ever draft national action plan on endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) as an important step towards better identification of and health protection against the risks associated to exposure to such harmful substances. A public consultation on the draft plan came to a close February 14th .
Endocrine disrupting chemicals, also known as hormone disruptors or EDCs, are synthetic chemicals that block, mimic or interfere with the natural hormones in our bodies. Decades of peer-reviewed research has linked exposure to endocrine disruptors to a number of serious health impacts, including cancer, obesity and diabetes, fertility problems, and thyroid disorders.
With the launch of its action plan, Belgium is joining a small group of other EU countries taking national action to address the challenge of EDC exposure through simultaneous actions on several levels: 1) increase efforts to better identify and regulate those substances at national and European levels, 2) better inform the population about EDCs to serve exposure reduction, including through training of relevant professionals in the health and social fields and boosting substitution efforts across sectors, 3) continue to develop research to serve more accurate identification and to monitor the exposure of the population and the environment. Other countries that have already taken similar initiatives include France, Denmark and Sweden .
Belgium’s draft action plan aims to establish a general and coherent framework to reduce exposure to EDCs in Belgium and will run for the period 2022 to December 2026, focusing on three main pillars for action:
- Awareness-raising and prevention strategies, targeting the public and relevant professionals;
- Legislative action at national and EU levels aimed to serve EDC exposure reduction;
- Research and work on identification of EDCs, including biomonitoring.
Belgium’s plan was developed in the context of important European developments to identify and regulate EDCs, in particular the implementation of the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, the revision of the EU regulation on the classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures (CLP) and the revision of REACH legislation. The action plan rightfully highlights the Belgian Presidency of the EU taking place in 2024 as a key opportunity to keep endocrine disruptors right on the political and legislative agenda.
The implementation of the action plan provides an important opportunity for Belgium to demonstrate its long-standing commitment to protecting environmental health and contribute to the important regulatory processes that currently developing at the European level. In order to reach that goal, HEAL has highlighted the importance to further specify the budgetary and human resource commitments attached to the proposed actions.
Health and environment groups have welcomed the action plan as an inspiring driver for European action towards the reduction of exposure to hazardous substances :
Natacha Cingotti, Health and Chemicals Lead at the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) said: “Belgium’s national action plan on endocrine disrupting chemicals is part of a larger movement of European governments taking steps to promote better information about and protection against these harmful substances. This health-promoting trend must be translated in the current and long-awaited EU-wide reforms to speed up the identification and restriction of EDCs.”
Christian Horemans, Expert International Affairs at the Belgian Independent Health Insurance Funds (Mutualités Libres / Onafhankelijke Ziekenfondsen) said: “The Belgian national action plan on endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) comes at the right moment: an increasing number of Belgians are worried about the impact of such substances on public health. As a health insurance fund, we hope to contribute to the implementation of the action plan via the stakeholder committee that will be created. It’s a great opportunity, but a challenging one: different ministers and administrations on federal and regional level will be involved, which means a good coordination and monitoring will be key.”
Ann Gils, Director of Prevention and Early Detection at the Belgian Flemish Cancer League (Kom Op Tegen Kanker) said: “We encourage the eighteen actions described in the Belgian National Action Plan aiming to increase awareness, strengthen regulation and enhance research on endocrine disrupting chemicals. As an organisation aiming to decrease cancer incidence and increase cancer survivorship, we consider cancer patients as vulnerable people. Their exposure to EDCs should be extremely minimized and research on the consequences of such chemicals on the effectiveness of treatment is needed, for example through biomonitoring.”