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Monday, May 19, 2008

Europe in science-04.08

Two not-connected articles on science this month. The first is about our beloved mission Galileo and the second about the breast cancer epidemic in Europe.

I'm very glad that Galileo will have its go finally. I heard today on EuroNews that its accuracy will be few cm, while with GPS its actually meters. For those that don't know what Galileo is-it is a positioning system, just like GPS, but obviously better and European.

What impressed me more, however is the second article. It claims that breast cancer may be (and probably is) connected with the hormones our bodies gather from all hormonally active chemical we get in touch with. And that would mean not only medicaments, but also food or cosmetics! And this is where I start worrying because we all use cosmetics and we all know the nice commercials in which they explain how the product makes the skin younger with some obscure (but very pretty) mechanism.
I'm asking, who guarantees us that this mechanism is safe?!

Galileo a step closer to orbit

8 April 2008

The path for the EU's satellite navigation system to become operational by 2013 has been cleared after member states agreed implementation rules outlining a timetable and industrial tendering plan as well as a clear division of roles and responsibilities between the three EU institutions.

The EU-27 transport ministers agreed, on 7 April 2008, on a general approach external for the Galileo Implementation Regulation, which sets out the legal basis for the implementation of the budget (€3.4 billion) for the period 2007-2013 and a new management structure for the project.

Slovenian Transport Minister Radovan Žerjav said the agreement presents "a clear signal to Europe and the whole world that we are still firmly committed to providing all European citizens and enterprises with a high-quality satellite-navigation service by 2013".

According to the compromise, the Galileo programme development and deployment phase comprising the construction and launch of the first satellites and the establishment of the first ground-based infrastructure is to begin in 2008 and end in 2013. The exploitation phase - management, maintenance, standardisation and marketing of the system - should begin at the latest in 2013 when the system is expected to become operational.

The deployment phase will be financed entirely by Community funds, though according to the agreement, it will be possible to form public-private partnerships or other forms of contract with the private sector after 2013.

The procurement and industrial tendering of the infrastructure will be split into six main work packages: system engineering support, ground mission infrastructure completion, ground control infrastructure completion, satellites, launchers and operations. A number of additional work packages is also foreseen.

On the governance side, the 'Galileo Interinstitutional Panel' (GIP), consisting of representatives of the Council, Parliament and the Commission, will decide on the annual work programme. It will also follow the implementation of contract agreements and ensure the overall governance and political control of the project.

The Commission will act as the manager of the programmes, while the Galileo Surveillance Authority (GSA), set up as a Community agency, will ensure the security accreditation of the system. GSA will also ensure the operation of the Galileo security centre and contribute to the preparation of the commercialisation of the system.

As for future revenue generated by the system's commercial services, the draft Regulation stresses that this "must be collected by the European Community in order to ensure that its earlier investments are recovered". "However, a revenue-sharing mechanism could be stipulated in any contract concluded with the private sector," it states.

The text backed by ministers has already received tentative approval from Parliament representatives in informal trilogue negotiation rounds, which also involved the Commission and the Council. It was approvedexternal in a vote in Parliament's Industry Committee today (8 April). Parliament's plenary vote is expected to take place by end of April to ensure the timely kick-off of the long delayed EU flagship project. source

Avoiding chemical exposure 'only way to halt breast cancer'

4 April 2008

The breast cancer epicemic cannot be reversed without considering women's exposure to chemical cocktails throughout their lives, argued Professor Andreas Kortenkamp of the University of London, presenting new scientific evidence to the European Parliament.

"There is a breast cancer epidemic in Europe, especially in Eastern Europe, and also in Western Europe the figures continue to rise," Kortenkamp told to EurActiv as he presented a study external in the Parliament on 2 April.

Kortenkamp, the head of the Centre for Toxicology at the University of London, said medical doctors agree that better mammographic screening alone cannot explain the rise. Instead, he says, there is now "compelling evidence that natural and pharmaceutically applied hormones play a role in breast cancer, for instance, hormone replacement therapy (HRT)". HRT, he said, "raises concerns about environmental chemicals and chemicals in consumer products that are hormonally active and behave biologically, in just the same way as the natural estrogens".

The chemical industry has long argued that trace amounts of chemicals found in peoples' blood do not necessarily constitute a health risk as they are usually found in extremely low concentrations. And toxicologists are divided over how to interpret the data collected by so-called 'biomonitoring' studies.

But Professor Kortenkamp cited new evidence about how these chemicals act together as mixtures. "If you combine a very large number of chemicals at very low doses, you can see significant hormonal effects with them. It can even happen that the hormonal strength of natural estrogens can be modulated."

Kortenkamp said he hoped the report would be taken seriously and "turned into political, regulatory action about these chemicals". He acknowledged that in science there is always something to be further explained or clarified, but said he believes that there is already enough scientific evidence to start regulatory action while at the same time continuing scientific research in parallel. "You can't wait for perfect clarity. That would be really unethical."

Chemicals are not the only risk factor in breast cancer, as women's decisions on when to have children also play a role. Likewise radiation, genes and alcohol also have a role to play, noted Kortenkamp. He added, however, that reducing exposure to chemicals is the only risk factor authorities can influence.

He described the EU's chemicals legislation REACH as one arena where legal action to regulate hormonally active chemicals can take place.

In the framework of REACH, a candidate list of chemicals that present the most cause for concern over public health and the environment is currently being drafted for publication in autumn 2008. The first chemicals on that list will be the ones to be put on a priority list and need to go through special scrutiny before they are authorised. The priority list will be drafted based on the candidate list and is due for publication in June 2009.

"We would like to see hormone disrupting chemicals put on the candidate list," said Lisette van Vliet, toxics policy advisor at the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL). "Chemicals that mimic estrogen and destroy hormones need to be removed from the market or substituted by safer substances. REACH can help us to do this," agreed MEP Avril Doyle. However, the industry has criticised the fact that, within REACH, a chemical could be banned even when equally performing or reliable alternatives do not exist.

Hormonally active chemicals can be found in drugs (like hormone replacement therapy, HRT and the pill), personal body care products, plastics or food. source

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