German Environmental Survey, GerES VI

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Adults are back in focus in the German Environmental Survey.
Source: Fotolia/Dashk (edited by Agentur Naumilkat)

The German Environment Agency (UBA) conducts the German Environmental Survey for Adults (GerES VI) to collect information on the burden of the adult population in Germany with environmental pollutants. Samples of tap water, urine, blood, house dust, and indoor air are analysed along with information acquired by questionnaires during a home visit.

Information on study participation: Participants are selected randomly to be representative for the men and women and for their age group in their place of residence. The locations are selected randomly as well. This representative sampling allows for drawing conclusions on the entire adult population in Germany. Therefore, it is unfortunately not possible to volunteer for GerES VI.

After GerES IV (2003–2006) and GerES V (2014–2017) investigated children and adolescents exclusively, the focus is now again on adults aged 18–79 years. The last GerES focussing on the adult population was GerES III (1997-1999), more than 20 years ago.

The German Environmental Survey now enters the 6th cycle and is conducted in close cooperation with the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and, for the first time, with the Max Rubner Institute (MRI). The pilot study of GerES VI with a gross sample of 121 participants was carried out in advance from December 2018 until January 2019, serving to test the feasibility of essential elements of GerES VI.

The fieldwork of the subsequent main survey will take about two years. We will be on the move in 300 survey locations across Germany and visit the participants in their home.

Survey test methods

A core element of the survey is human biomonitoring (HBM), i.e. the analysis of participants’ blood and urine samples for environmental pollutants. Furthermore, pollutants in the living environment are analysed and samples of tap water, house dust, and indoor air are taken.

The average duration of a home visit is estimated around two and a half hours. The basic survey program of the visit is performed with all participants:

  • A personal interview (questions about aspects of the living environment, the equipment of the residence, product applications, dietary habits as well as exposure- relevant behaviour),
  • a sample of morning urine to measure metals, plasticizers, and pesticide residues,
  • drinking water samples to measure metals,
  • self-administered questionnaires on sources of pollution in the residence and in the household as well as on environmental diseases and health impairments, and
  • a final satisfaction questionnaire for the execution of the study.

The interviews and questionnaires serve to determine the influence of personal living conditions on exposure to certain pollutants.

In addition, some participants will also be enrolled in one of the following investigations:

  • House dust: The filled vacuum cleaner bag is e.g. examined for flame retardants.
  • Drinking water: Organic compounds are determined in additional tap water samples.
  • Volatile pollutants in indoor air: Volatile pollutants are measured with small passive air samplers and the room air humidity and temperature are also recorded.
  • Particulate matter: The concentration of particles up to a size of 2.5 µm is measured in the living room and in the outdoor area in front of it.
  • Mould: Mould spores are measured in house dust, in outdoor air, and in the bedroom, where also temperature and humidity are recorded. Sometimes a mould detection dog is employed for more detailed examinations.

Benefit for the participants

Four to six months after the examinations the participants will receive their individual results and an environmental medical assessment of the pollutants measured in their samples, if they wish so. For questions, UBA is available via phone and email for participants.

Benefit for the entire population

GerES VI provides up-to-date, population-representative data on the burden of the adult population in Germany with environmental pollutants. These data help to describe the extent to which adults are exposed to environmental pollutants. They also allow for identifying particularly exposed groups as well as exposure sources and pathways.

This information is an important basis for developing targeted measures to protect the population from health-affecting environmental influences. The data can also be used to check whether existing rules and laws are sufficient. The results of GerES VI are also used to examine the influence of environmental factors on disease occurrence in Germany and possibly also in Europe and to analyse potential connections between socio-economic factors and environmental pollution regarding environmental justice.