Schulze: "Human biomonitoring should become an instrument of European chemicals policy"

Comparison of human exposure to chemicals must be improved

Eine behandschuhte Hand stellt ein Reagenzglas mit einer Blutprobe in eine Reagenzglashalterung, in der bereits weitere Blutproben stehen.Click to enlarge
Many chemicals are traceable in the blood or urine of the population
Source: C Angellodeco / Fotolia

At an international conference on "Human Biomonitoring for science and chemical policy", Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze and UBA President Dirk Messner spoke out in favour of expanding human biomonitoring at European level. This involves examining population groups for their exposure to environmental pollutants and other sources. The results indicate whether measures should be taken to reduce this pollution or what effect existing measures have had. Minister Schulze and Mr Messner called for human biomonitoring to be anchored as an instrument of European chemicals policy in a virtual meeting with representatives from research, industry, administration and civil society. Up to now, there are hardly any reliable EU-wide data on the exposure of the public to chemicals.

Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said, "We have to know exactly which pollutants humans are exposed to. It's the only way to enact progressive chemicals policy that is oriented towards sustainable development goals and thereby protect man and the environment. In Germany, human biomonitoring has proved its worth. I am committed to ensuring that it also acquires the necessary importance at EU level. The EU Commission's new chemicals strategy will be an important building block of the Green Deal. We need progressive content that improves the protection of man and the environment."

UBA President Dirk Messner said, "Human biomonitoring should be promoted in the framework of the EU Sustainability Strategy for chemicals. In order to regulate problematic chemicals effectively, we need comparable data across the EU, also to understand regional differences regarding exposure. Only then will we be able to check whether EU chemicals regulation is working."

There are tens of thousands of chemicals on the market in the EU, many of which are also found in the blood or urine of many EU citizens. Human biomonitoring (HBM) investigates to what extent and why the chemicals end up in humans at all. The European HBM4EU initiative led by the UBA is currently testing how such monitoring could work across Europe. The HBM4EU project has now networked 194 laboratories that meet the highest quality standards. They provide reliable and comparable data across Europe for priority substances that are or may be associated with health risks to the population. HBM4EU interprets these data and formulates recommendations for policy makers.

In contrast to existing reporting obligations in the field of environmental monitoring, there are currently no binding requirements for the collection of HBM data at European level or in the EU Member States. HBM4EU has shown that HBM data contribute to an improved risk assessment of chemicals. In an open letter to the EU Commission, the HBM4EU Management Board has advocated the systematic collection and use of HBM data. The European Green Deal and the associated new EU sustainability strategy for chemicals offer the opportunity for this.

A current HBMA4EU study on exposure of workers to chromium VI in various industrial sectors is underway. The results of the study will soon show that these groups are still significantly more exposed to carcinogenic chromium VI than the general population - despite already strict EU regulatory measures. The study shows that further precautions are particularly useful to prevent the absorption of chromium VI through the skin.

Another group of substances being studied are the phthalates. This group of plasticisers includes substances that affect fertility and are used in many plastic products, including food packaging. Although initial HBM4EU results show that human exposure to phthalates decreases after individual substances in this group are regulated, the substances are still traceable in almost every individual researched. Whilst the EU regulation may be effective, the population is still exposed to too many phthalates. In addition, the effects of critical phthalates in particular can add up among themselves and also in combination with some plant protection products. As a result, a reliable all-clear can only be given after the substance mixtures have been assessed.

HBM4EU also makes an important contribution to assessing the risks of per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS is a group of chemicals which is currently the subject of intense debate in Europe and which, among other things, can affect the effects of vaccinations. The "German Environmental Health Study", carried out by the German Environmental Agency, showed that many German children have more PFAS in their blood than is considered toxicologically safe.

Further information

All the results of the HBM4EU project are available here:

Watch these videos to see exactly how dangerous substances can affect humans and how they are detected in the human body through human biomonitoring: , .


HBM4EU - How the body takes up chemicals?
Source: European Environment Agency

HBM4EU - How the body takes up chemicals?

Human Biomonitoring for Europe, HBM4EU - science and policy for a healthy future
Source: European Environment Agency

Human Biomonitoring for Europe, HBM4EU - science and policy for a healthy future

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 human biomonitoring  Gesundheit  Chemikalien