EU relaxes control on 'gender' chemicals

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Confidential proposals, seen by The Independent on Sunday, show that the chemicals will be treated less strictly than other dangerous substances in a new European Commission directive to be finalised.

The proposals, drawn up by the British Government, will create a storm of protest, not least because they fly in the face of a formal warning given by more than 125 of the leading scientists in the field just three months ago.

The scientists, who had carried out research on the chemicals, said they were "concerned about the level of male reproductive disorders" in Europe.

Sperm levels have been dropping across the industrialised world, and the chemicals are widely thought to be responsible.

Research published in May showed that mothers exposed to phthalates had boys with smaller penises.

British research has demonstrated that half of all the fish in our lowland rivers are changing sex because of pollution. The EC planned to ensure that suspected gender-bending chemicals went through a special safety screening before being used, but this ran into opposition from the chemical industry.

Now a new version of the directive exempts the chemicals from the checks unless there is "scientific evidence of effects to humans or the environment".