German Environmental Survey, GerES VI (2023-2024)

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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 (2023–2024) 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 randomly selected representative for the men and women and for their age group in their place of residence. The sampling 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) investigating exclusively children and adolescents, 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.

This is the 6th cycle of the German Environmental Survey. To check the feasibility of essential elements of GerES VI, a pilot study (2018–2019) was carried out in advance with a gross sample of 121 participants.

The fieldwork of the subsequent main survey will take about one year. Our study teams are bound for 150 municipalities across Germany and will visit the participants in their home.

Survey test methods

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

The home visit will take around two and a half hours. The basic survey program performed by all participants includes:

  • A personal interview (questions about the living environment, the equipment of the residence, product applications, dietary habits as well as exposure- relevant behaviour),
  • a sample of first morning void urine to measure metals, plasticizers, and pesticide residues,
  • tap water samples to measure metals and per- and polyfluorinated compounds (PFAS),
  • self-administered questionnaires on sociodemographic characteristics, sources of pollution in the residence and in the household as well as on environmental diseases, and
  • a final contentment questionnaire on the study conduct and a self-administered questionnaire on climate change.

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 survey programs:

  • House dust: The content of 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 indoor humidity and temperature are 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, in the latter temperature and humidity are also recorded. In some cases, a mould detection dog is employed for more detailed examinations.

Additionally, medical specialists will visit the study participants at home for the following examinations:

  • Taking a blood sample fo investigation of exposure to pollutants such as persistent substance that accumulate in the body e.g. metals, PFAS and pesticides.
  • A brief survey concerning the blood sampling.

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.

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 German Environmental Survey  GerES  Environment and Health