With Special Note From Former FDA Investigator Arthur M. Evangelista
Note from Arthur Evangelista, former FDA Investigator:
July 8, 2004 - Budapest
Ministers Call For 'Decisive Action,' While The Chemical Industry Says, "WHO Threatens Business" !!
By Robert Walgate
BUDAPEST - At a meeting of European Health Ministers here last week ( http://www.euro.who.int/budapest2004 ), the World Health Organization (WHO) moved action against synthetic chemicals that affect child development higher on the global health agenda.
Scientists said action was overdue, with tens of thousands of novel chemicals of unknown effect circulating in our bodies, but chemical industry representatives told The Scientist the new stance could delay chemical research and development by 15 years, and raise issues of international competition and equity.
Philip Landrigan ( http://www.cdc.gov/eis/about/landrigan.htm ) of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, NY, said in a scientific meeting at the Budapest summit that "children are very heavily exposed to an enormous number of synthetic chemicals that have been invented in the last 30 to 50 years, that didn't even exist before, that are widespread in the environment, and present in children's bodies and mother's milk."
While the toxic effects of a few, like lead and methyl mercury, are now known, the impact of most remains unknown, Landrigan said. A massive new research effort will be needed to identify the safety or dangers of the others, he argued.
At the meeting, under the aegis of the WHO European Region ( http://www.euro.who.int ), the ministers of health and environment of 52 countries from Ireland to Uzbekistan issued a declaration calling strongly for more research on these substances.
Ministers said: "Decisive action should be taken without undue delay to overcome the gaps in knowledge about the effects of chemicals on human health and to achieve sustainable development in the chemical industry."
Ministers cautiously supported WHO in a widespread and stronger use of the "precautionary principle," which is employed by the European Union and others to suspend production of chemicals in which initial evidence shows risk.
Some scientists at the Budapest meeting, like Philippe Grandjean ( http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/faculty/PhilippeGrandjean.html ) of the Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark, likened the chemical industry to the tobacco industry.
But Marc Danzon, Regional Director of WHO Euro told The Scientist: "I think the chemical industry ignored health for many years and has been a bit stressed by what's happening with the tobacco industry. But we don't consider the chemical or food industry to be the same as the tobacco industry. Tobacco gives nothing positive to health. You can't say that for the chemical industry."
Danzon wants constructive dialogue but said, "WHO will maintain our position as the advocates for health... Health cannot be negotiated. The dangers should be known, and we cannot be weak on that... If they want to locate themselves [like the tobacco industry], it's up to them. But we are not at all in the same configuration."
Colin Humphris, executive director for research at the European Chemical Industries Council ( http://www.cefic.be ), told The Scientist: "Industry experience is that at the technical level we get cooperation," with government and regulatory bodies such as those of the European Union. "This is a different sort of political debate," he said.
Humphris acknowledged that "there are gaps in the data sheets on some chemicals and there are issues over quality of data for othersbut the industry has a voluntary program to fill those gaps for the 1000 top-tonnage chemicals. That's a big fraction of chemical production," he said.
The combination of public concern and the new WHO position means "the chemical industry is headed to be like the pharmaceutical industry," Humphris said. "They go through all the various phases of trials, which take typically 15 years to get approval. So the first thing you'll see is that some of our technological development will become long term."
But drugs and chemicals have some specific differences, Humphris said. "Largely pharmaceuticals are being given in known doses to a known and defined population. And even so, unknown risks arise later, like breast cancer and HRT. The issue for the chemical industry is we don't have control over exposure. What a child might be exposed to is very difficult for our industry to handle."
"This has a way to run... There are a lot of potentially conflicting issues here," Humphris said. Links for this article Fourth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health:
"None are so hopelessly enslaved, as those who falsely believe they are free. The truth has been kept from the depth of their minds by masters who rule them with lies. They feed them on falsehoods till wrong looks like right in their eyes."