Joint press release by the Federal Environment Agency and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety

Environmental specimen bank supplies vital data for policy decision making

Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks and UBA President Maria Krautzberger pay a visit to Fraunhofer Institute lab truck

photo of a women working in the Environmental specimen bankClick to enlarge
Environmental Specimen Bank: Ice cold in the name of protection of the environment and health
Source: Umweltbundesamt

The Federal Government has maintained the world's largest and longest lived environmental specimen banks since the 1980s. Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said, "It is a way to document and monitor the population's exposure to pollution over time. The specimen bank provides us with important data for making environmental policy decisions."

Human samples are collected at four sites every year and are frozen and stored at a location near the city of Münster. Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks and the President of the Federal Environment Agency (UBA), Maria Krautzberger, paid a visit today to the Federal Government's environmental specimen bank on the occasion of the annual sampling day in Münster. Human samples are collected from young adults in an ultramodern mobile laboratory of the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering.

Minister Hendricks said: "The test series of the environmental specimen bank provide information about the development of pollution loads over time, namely if they are on the rise or decline. The results can call the use of a certain chemical into question and prompt government to take action. We also find out whether measures to reduce a specific type of pollution have been successful. How effective was a ban on use of a chemical? How effective was education of the public or a voluntary measure taken in industry? The environmental specimen bank generates the answers to all of these questions."

The new German Environmental Survey (GerES) which has just begun is another important source of information about health. The survey focusses on current exposure of children and adolescents to pollutants in the environment. The UBA survey tests drinking water, morning urine, blood, household dust, and air samples for evidence of environmental pollutants such as heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and plasticisers in plastics or solvents. UBA President Maria Krautzberger said: "Anyone born in Germany today has better prospects for a long and healthy life than ever before, but a polluted environment can nevertheless cause illness. There are grave indications that allergies are becoming more and more prevalent and that the risk of breast and scrotal cancer has increased. Our goal is to determine which environmental influences are responsible and to reduce them. The GerES helps us to better protect children and adolescents against the hazards of chemicals. For the first time we are also collecting data on chemicals which had not been traceable in the human organism up to now: substitutes for reprotoxic plasticisers or solvents."

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