The role of human biomonitoring in assessing and managing chemical risks

Page Last modified 07 Jun 2017
The use of chemicals in a broad range of products, including medicinal and veterinary products, as well as in agriculture and pest control, provides numerous benefits to society. At the same time, human and environmental exposure to hazardous chemicals represents a cost in terms of impacts on human health and reduced environmental quality. Recognising this, the European Union’s 7th Environmental Action Programme sets the goal of assessing and minimising risks to the environment and health associated with the use of hazardous substances by 2020.

A major hurdle to the reliable risk assessment and management of chemicals is the lack of harmonised information at European level concerning the exposure of citizens, including workers, to chemicals and their interplay with other concurrent environmental exposures and impact on health. Individuals are exposed to a complex mixture of chemicals in their daily lives through the environment, products, food and drinking water and at work. For many chemicals, the health impacts over a lifetime associated with exposure remain unknown. In addition, understanding of the health impacts of exposure to mixtures of chemicals is limited.

Human biomonitoring allows us to measure our exposure to chemicals by measuring either the substances themselves, their metabolites or markers of subsequent health effects in body fluids or tissues. Information on human exposure can then be linked to data on sources and epidemiological surveys, in order to inform research on the exposure-response relationships in humans. 

With the objective of addressing knowledge gaps and promoting innovative approaches, The European Human Biomonitoring Initiative, HBM4EU, has been launched. HBM4EU is a joint effort of 26 countries, the European Environment Agency and the European Commission, co-funded under Horizon 2020.

The main aim of the initiative is to coordinate and advance human biomonitoring in Europe. HBM4EU will provide better evidence of the actual exposure of citizens to chemicals and the possible health effects to support policy making.

Objectives of HBM4EU

HBM4EU will form a bridge between science and policy. Our research will explore current questions in chemical risk assessment and management and will deliver answers that help policy makers to protect human health. Policy makers, stakeholders and scientists will together shape the strategic direction of HBM4EU activities. This transparent and collaborative approach will ensure that our research generates knowledge that addresses genuine societal concerns.

Key objectives include:

▸      Harmonising procedures and tools for HBM at EU level;

▸      Providing and, where missing, generating internal exposure data and linking this data to external exposure and the relevant exposure pathways;

▸      Developing novel methods to identify human internal exposure to environmental and occupational chemicals and establishing the causal links with human health effects;

▸      Providing policy-makers and the general public with science-based knowledge on the health risks associated with chemicals exposure; and

▸      Improving chemical risk assessment in the EU through the effective use of HBM data.

In order to achieve these objectives, the consortium has worked on harmonizing human biomonitoring initiatives in 26 countries, by drawing on existing expertise and building new capacities. National Hubs are established in each country to coordinate activities, so creating a robust Human Biomonitoring Platform at pan-European level.

The HBM4EU initiative represents a novel collaboration between scientists and chemical risk assessors and risk managers, including several Commission services, EU agencies and national representatives. The project will build bridges between the research and policy worlds and deliver benefits to society in terms of enhanced chemical safety.

HBM4EU will run from 2017 to 2021, with the long-term objective of establishing a sustained programme. In developing priorities for HBM4EU under the first annual work plan, the consortium conducted a prioritisation exercise to identify those substances to be the focus of activities. Additional rounds of prioritisation will be carried out during the project lifespan to ensure that our research responds dynamically to policy needs.

The first year is mainly dedicated to collecting and collating existing HBM data for the nine prioritized substance groups, making data available, as appropriate, via the Information Platform for Chemical Monitoring, and determining which current policy questions can be answered using existing data. This will allow us to evaluate the extent to which a solid database of comparable HBM data from across the EU can be subject to systematic analysis, so providing answers to key policy questions.

For further information, please visit the official website of HBM4EU 

You may access the HBM4EU Leaflet from here


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