TWN Info Service on Health Issues (November 06/10)

27 November 2006

Scientists propose curbs on toxic chemicals

Scientists are calling for a ban of all hazardous chemicals present in pesticides used in intensive agriculture, in electronic devices, cosmetics and medicines. New research shows that many newborns are contaminated with more than 200 chemicals.

The following article is reproduced with the permission of South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) # 6146, 22 November 2006.

With best wishes
Evelyne Hong

Health: Scientists propose more curbs on hazardous chemicals

By Julio Godoy, IPS, Paris, 20 November 2006

A group of scientists, including several Nobel laureates in medicine, are urging international institutions and governments in the industrialised world to adopt a radical policy against chemical pollution in order to protect human health.

In the so-called Paris Appeal presented in the French capital earlier in November, the scientists are calling for "banning all products that are certainly or probably carcinogenic - as specified by competent international scientific authorities and organisations."

The scientists underline that such chemical substances, despite the proved danger they represent, are still present in pesticides and other products widely used in intensive agriculture, in numerous domestic electronic devices, cosmetics and even medicines.

The Paris Appeal was first formulated in 2004 during a meeting at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). In the new version of the paper, the authors develop 164 measures to drastically reduce chemical pollution that they say is threatening human survival.

"Chronic diseases registered by WHO (World Health Organisation), especially cancers, are increasing alarmingly," the document says.

"This general deterioration of health is the bill we have to pay for the pollution that we produce," Dominique Belpomme, leading French cancer expert and initiator of the Paris Appeal, told IPS.

"The concept of sustainable development is not enough to offset the pollution's health dangers. We need to associate with the concept of sustainable health, indivisibly linked with a real environmental policy."

Among the signatories to the appeal are French Nobel prize laureates in medicine Jean Dausset (1980) and Francois Jacob (1965) as well as hundreds of other European scientists representing practically the totality of medical associations from all 25 European Union (EU) country members, hundreds of non-governmental organisations, and some 150,000 European citizens.

The appeal comes ahead of the European Parliament meeting to give definitive approval to the new European regulation on chemicals - the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) system. The European Parliament is scheduled to vote on REACH in the week beginning December 11.

"REACH will provide a high level of protection of human health and the environment," according to the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU. "At the same time, it will enhance the competitiveness of the EU chemicals industry by fostering innovation and ensuring high safety standards for its products."

Under REACH, chemicals presenting a certain level of danger would not be permitted for continued use except in cases where the chemical serves an essential social role and there are no effective alternatives.

In their appeal, Belpomme and his colleagues are calling on the EU to "reinforce the REACH programme so as to ensure substitution of the most dangerous chemicals for man with less dangerous substitutes."

The document urges the rest of the world to adopt "international regulations to control the marketing of chemicals following the REACH programme in a reinforced version."

The Paris Appeal also calls for more attention to the health dangers represented by pesticides and phthalates, which are chemical additives widely used in plastics, home devices, medicine and cosmetics, mainly to make them soft and flexible.

New research shows that "many newborns at the moment of their birth are already contaminated with more than 200 chemical substances," Belpomme added. "Up to 75% of cancers are provoked by chemical pollution."

Charles Sultan, toxicologist in the French Mediterranean city Montpellier told IPS: "I have found up to 300 chemical substances in the blood of the umbilical cordon in newborn babies. These substances are responsible for endocrinal perturbations, from genetic deformations to growth problems and brain development."

Similar findings have been reported elsewhere in Europe. Henrik Leffers, researcher at the Copenhagen University Hospital's department for growth and reproduction, and who took part in the presentation of the Paris Appeal, stressed that human exposure to phthalates "is a major cause of chemical poisoning."

According to the French National Research Institute on Health Safety, some three million tonnes of phthalates are produced every year worldwide.

"From animal studies increasingly more evidence is pointing to the fact that the phthalates constitute a health menace," Leffers said.

"When I say phthalates, most people think of plastic bags and toys for children and things like that, but the exposure comes from cosmetics," Leffers said.

"Of the creams and oils you rub on your skin, a substantial part will be absorbed through the skin and further into the bloodstream and affect all organs, and it is here [that] the exposure of phthalates comes from."

The scientists emphasise also that radical reform of the European agricultural policy is needed, from the present financial aid to mass production towards organic agriculture, free of pesticides and other chemical components.