A new study published online on December 11, 2014 in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) describes the first Europe-wide human biomonitoring project. Biomonitoring programs for assessing internal exposure to environmental chemicals have a long tradition at a national level in some countries (e.g., Germany, France), but are not yet available for Europe as a whole. Europe-wide biomonitoring data are needed to track spatial variations and temporal trends in exposure to chemicals. The large group of European researchers measured mercury in hair and nicotine and phthalate metabolites, and cadmium in urine samples taken from 1844 children aged 5-11 years and their mothers in 17 European countries. Personal characteristics, environment, and life style of the participants recruited in one rural and one urban area per country were also recorded. Data were collected through a harmonized process including the use of a commonly developed protocol. The resulting database was used to compare concentrations of exposure biomarkers across Europe, to identify determinants of exposure and to compare exposure biomarkers with guidance values for health-based exposure limits. Results show that exposure to mercury, cadmium, phthalates, and nicotine is widespread in the European population. Most biomarker concentrations were below the health-based guidance values and differed markedly with country of residence. The authors stress that the use of a harmonized protocol and stringent quality control measures ensure that these are true differences. Such an EU-harmonized biomonitoring approach will help policy makers to evaluate whether implementation of protective measures and legislations related to chemicals are adequate to protect public health or need to be adjusted, the authors conclude.

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Den Hond, E. et al. (2014). “First steps toward harmonized human biomonitoring in Europe: demonstration project to perform human biomonitoring on a European scale.Environmental Health Perspectives (published online December 11, 2014)