HC Deb 25 May 2004 vol 421 cc1443-4 12.31 pm
Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central) (Lab)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about the regulation of hormone disrupting chemicals; and for connected purposes. Every year, millions of tonnes of toxic chemicals, which do not break down, which build up in the bodies of people and animals and which disrupt hormone production, are released into the environment, increasing cancers and infertility and causing mental and physical problems in children and adults and contamination across the ecosystem. We may accept the growth in chemical production from 1 million tonnes in 1930 to 400 million tonnes in 2000—the chemicals are used in plastics, toys, computers, food packaging and manufactured products—but the continued use of dangerous or risky chemicals is unacceptable where safe substitutes exist.

The Bill calls for the phasing out of persistent chemicals that do not break down and for the substitution of safer alternatives. Such chemicals are bio-accumulative and build up in the body, and they are also endocrine disrupting and therefore cause hormone imbalance. The Bill precedes the REACH legislation on chemical regulation, which will be proposed in the European Union next year. In our year of EU presidency, I hope that the UK takes a leading role in sharpening up the protection of our environment and in adopting a precautionary approach based on the best scientific evidence in order to eliminate dangerous chemicals from manufacturing.

The scale of the problem is great—300 man-made chemicals are found in the human body. Babies are born with a toxic burden of chemicals inherited from their mother in the womb, and those chemicals affect hormone production in the ovaries, the testes and the thyroid gland, causing cancers and genital deformities and reducing the immune system. Such chemicals are present in polar bears in the Artic, in tree frogs in tropical rain forests and in seals off the coast of the United Kingdom. Unlike drugs, chemical manufacturers do not even have to show that such cocktails of toxic chemicals are safe before marketing them.

Hormone disrupting chemicals are endemic in toys, cabling, food packaging, feeding bottles, tins, cleaning products, food and water. I pay tribute to WWF and the Co-operative bank for bringing the issue up the political agenda, partly through their advertisements, which ask the simple question, "Why should chemicals usually found in the manufacture of carpets, curtains, sofas and cleaning products turn up in the bodies of polar bears?" The answer is, of course, that such chemicals go through the whole ecosystem and end up causing damage throughout the world.

In recent years, the incidence of testicular cancer has grown—in fact, it has doubled in the past 30 years—and breast cancer has increased by 50 per cent. Research now links hormone disrupting chemicals to some of those problems. Man-made chemicals have been linked to learning disabilities and hyperactivity. Polychlorinated biphenyls—PCBs—in mothers are transferred in pregnancy to babies, giving rise to lower birth weight, poorer reflexes, delayed movement, retarded mental development, and language, verbal and numeracy difficulties. They also give rise to learning and memory problems in adults.

Brominated flame retardants are found in human breast milk. In Britain, we have the sad record of our butter having a higher concentration of brominated flame retardants than any butter in the world. Yet those chemical products can be removed, as they are, in the manufacturing sector by the Swedish company IKEA.

We need to consider the additional cost that not having such a ban imposes on the health service in terms of treating allergies, cancers and skin disease. Professor David Pearce has estimated that that saving could be in the order of £50 billion over the next 17 years or so.

We need to establish which chemicals should be substituted, based on the level of evidence and proof, which will vary from chemical to chemical. In the first instance, we must take a unilateralist approach to listing the harmful chemicals and beginning to eliminate them. That is what has occurred in Denmark, Greece, Germany, France, Finland and Austria. Ultimately, we need to use European Union legislation to phase out completely all persistent and bio-accumulative hormone disrupting chemicals where safer alternatives exist. We owe it to ourselves, our children and our planet to respect the safety of our environment and of future generations.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Geraint Davies, Siobhan McDonagh, Laura Moffatt, Ms Dari Taylor, Mr. Alan Campbell, Andy Burnham, Julie Morgan, Mr. Alan Meale, Syd Rapson, Mrs. Betty Williams, Donald Anderson and Mr. Andrew Love.