Endocrine Disruptors – Risk Management Options


Position Paper Emerging Risk Initiative

Executive Summary

Human and animal life is widely exposed to many artificial substances that interfere with the sensitively constructed hormonal system. Substances that interfere with hormones are called Endocrine Disrupting compounds/chemicals (EDC). Harmful effects on fish and amphibian have been proven. Evidence is mounting that specific substances are connected to human bodily injuries. Liability insurers may therefore be exposed from affected industries as policies do not exclude these risks.

Many processes in the human and animal body are controlled by hormones. Among such processes are metabolism, sexual development, reproductive functions, immunity, sleep-wake-cycle, growth, stress-response and mood regulation. Some of these hormones have slow but long-lasting effects.

EDC can be natural products such as genistein from soy or zearalenone from fungus. Of concern are man-made chemicals, which are produced and dispersed in large quantities. Some of these reach the human body via direct food contact; others are stable enough to enter it through the food-chain.

Environmental research and lab- data suggest a high susceptibility of fish and amphibians to the amounts of EDC stemming from agricultural use, combustion, sewage and smokestacks.

Singular events have spilt large quantities of EDC accidently into the environment (e.g. Dioxin in the Seveso accident or Corexit after the Deepwater Horizon oil-spill). Dramatic effects of EDC may be observed in humans after such high level exposure. A direct link between human health problems and chronic low-dose EDC intake has not yet been established. But concerns regarding the effect on sexual differentiation in fish or amphibians as well as impaired survival of affected offspring led to precautionary measures. Use of some substances has been limited if not totally phased out.

Regulation differs among the diverse legal environments. Some specific agreements that require phase-out of the most problematic substances have been signed across borders.

Liability exposures arise from environmental pollution and have led to successful claims for clean-up costs. The highest risk for the insurance industry emerges from the probable link between low-level EDC exposure and bodily injury. Taking into account the environmental stability, the long term exposure and the late disease onset, bodily injury claims could result.

Beside this casualty catastrophy scenario for all liability insurers, there already exist large settlements for clean-up costs or upgrades of water-treatment facilities to remove EDC from drinking water. For the risk management of liability insurers it is crucial to monitor this emerging risk. A greater clarity regarding the associated costs has to be achieved.

This paper gives a brief introduction to the risk and aims at increasing awareness. A dialogue should be started taking into account risk-mitigation strategies and the involvement of all stakeholders. We recommend to minimise the use and release of EDC and we encourage the removal of EDC/micropollutants from waste water and drinking water taking into account individual circumstances.

  • Anno di pubblicazione:  2012

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