30 August 2012 by Pelle Neroth
You can also see this in the health statistics. The Danes have among the shortest lifespans in western Europe. When I worked for a well known medical journal I interviewed the director of the Swedish centre for health studies who told me; "Danes have shorter lives than Swedes". But, he added,"they have more fun."
So what is this, a sudden conversion to nanny statism, most un-Danish? The Danish government has decided to go against EU law and ban all phthalates. For years, some phthalates, plastics-softening chemicals that go into PVC flooring and children's toys, have been accused of causing the decline in sperm counts observed among the men of the Western world. Earlier puberty among girls is another of phthalates' claimed effects.
The research is controversial. Two lobbies have lined up on either side. I stopped believing that the green groups were the automatic "good guys" long ago. They are often alarmist and extremist and, on this issue, they predictably have long called for a total phthalates ban. The chemicals industry has urged caution, and industry contrary to conspiracy theorists does not win all the battles. The commission's ban on all kinds of asbestos a few years ago is widely believed to have been too drastic. White asbestos, or Chrysotile, has far fewer health risks associated with it than brown asbestos, and indeed is legal in much of the world. Not in the EU. Maybe because white asbestos has the word "asbestos" in it.
In 2006, the EU set up the independent chemicals agency REACH to sort out these kinds of cost benefit analyses in as scientific a way as possible. Every chemical used in Europe has to pass through its purview. Registered and assessed and then given the green light or not before going on to the market. The REACH agency greenlighted the four phthalates in question, and one argument was that anyway there was a voluntary decline in its use by industry as the PVC industry increasingly has found substitutes under some kind of better- safe-than-sorry principle. When making risk assessments, REACH looks at the total picture. How much of the chemical is used and where before recommending a ban.
But now Denmark has gone ahead with a unilateral ban, which has caused a bit of a ruckus as this challeges the credibility of the relatively new chemicals agency. Perhaps it is because - in a recent survey I happened to see - Danish male sperm counts have declined more rapidly than in other countries in Europe. This is a headline winner, and perhaps it is easier to ban PVC flooring - which Denmark does not produce - than force a nation to change its drinking and smoking habits, which are also alleged to reduce sperm production. Meanwhile, the commission has talked of taking Denmark to the European Court of Justice to rescind the ban. The EU's authority is, after all, being challenged.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 30 August 2012 03:01 PM Legislation
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