Parts of the European population have alarmingly high levels of pollutant exposure

European Human Biomonitoring Initiative takes stock

Blutabnahme mit einer SpritzeClick to enlarge
Blood sample
Source: Guido Grochowski /

Some of Europe’s population have alarmingly high levels of exposure to pollutants. This is the conclusion of the European human biomonitoring initiative HBM4EU, coordinated by UBA, which will be presented at the international final conference of the project in Brussels on 27-28 April. Plasticisers were detected in all children and adolescents examined, and per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), which can be used to coat pans, for example, are also present in human blood in quantities that are in some cases too high. The HBM4EU project says that action is still needed on the part of policy makers for many of the substances investigated. The HBM4EU collected the first comparable and comprehensible data on the exposure of the EU population to important chemicals.

The EU regulates the use of chemicals and their placement on the market. Data must therefore be collected, analysed and evaluated in a comparable way at EU level. This is the only way that European institutions can take effective measures to protect human health and the environment and inform the population about the causes of exposure and possible prevention options. The Human Biomonitoring Initiative HBM4EU has been pooling, collecting and evaluating data at European level since 2017.

At the international final conference of the project on 27-28 April in Brussels, HBM4EU will present for the first time in summary form the exposure data for the most important pollutants and also what contribution the data can make to chemical policy making.

A few results:

Plasticisers: Critically high levels of plasticisers were detected in the European population even though they are already strictly regulated. Reprotoxic plasticisers were found in all children and adolescents tested. An overall decrease in the average exposure to regulated plasticisers was observed, but exposure to the sum of all plasticisers is still too high (about 17 percent) while exposure to substances that have replaced "old" plasticisers has increased at the same time.

⁠PFAS: Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) were traced in the blood of all samples taken from adolescents throughout Europe. Up to one quarter of adolescents are exposed to concentrations at which health effects can no longer be ruled out with sufficient certainty. The exposure is mainly to compounds that are already banned but extremely persistent. These data, according to HBM4EU, underline the need to ban PFAS as a matter of principle, especially since a large number of the substitutes have similar problematic properties as the PFAS which are already regulated. The use of these substances should only be allowed to continue in a few areas where they are still irreplaceable.

Mixtures: HBM4EU also focused on chemical mixtures. Monitoring revealed the presence of a large number of industrial chemicals in the human body. Current research also addresses the assessment of the health effects of this chemical cocktail. HBM4EU investigated typical mixtures and mixture effects. Results showed that current chemical assessment needs to be further developed in order to adequately address simultaneous exposure to many chemicals.

HBM4EU demonstrates that human biomonitoring has established itself as a very good tool for measuring exposure to pollutants. The results of HBM4EU have laid the foundation for the establishment of long-term, sustainable human biomonitoring in the EU. HBM4EU will end in June 2022 after five and a half years. The work will be continued in the European Partnership for Risk Assessment of Chemicals (PARC), which is funded by the European Commission for a period of seven years under Horizon Europe.

Further information:

The international HBM4EU Final Conference will be held on 27-28 April 2022 in Brussels. The two-day conference presents the results of the project and features discussions of the role which human biomonitoring plays for chemical policy making. The overall theme of the conference “Science and policy for a healthy future" highlights the important role HBM4EU plays in linking science and health, environment and chemical policy making to protect human health more effectively.

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