The combined effects of chemicals that seem safe in isolation but may present health risks when absorbed together were identified by Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas in June 2009 as a large future challenge.

Multiple Chemicals Concern EU Environment Ministers

Endocrine disruptors may be addressed this year, but comprehensive action on combined chemicals as a whole probably is two years away, according to the EU.

The European Union's 27 environment ministers recently asked the European Commission to determine whether legislative action is needed to protect human health from exposure to multiple chemicals. So-called "chemical cocktails," the combined effects of chemicals that seem safe in isolation but may present health risks when absorbed together, were identified by Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas last June as a large future challenge on the global chemicals agenda, according to the EU.

The European Environment and Health Strategy (SCALE) and the EU Action Plan on Environment and Health (2004-2010) also state the combined exposure of chemicals should be addressed in risk assessments.

Under REACH, the EU's chemicals legislation, risk assessments are made on a chemical-by-chemical basis with little consideration given to combined effects. However, this gap occurred because "there has been insufficient knowledge of the matter to date, a situation which is now changing," said Ulf Björnholm Ottosson, environment counselor at the Swedish Representation to the EU.

The Commission soon will finalize a study that scientifically assesses the risks of exposure to multiple chemicals, and later this year is it is expected to recommend exposure limits for combinations of endocrine disruptors, which are substances suspected of interfering with human and animal hormone systems. But comprehensive action on chemical cocktails probably is two years away, according to the EU.

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