German Environmental Survey 1997-1999, GerES III

Pedestrians on a pavementClick to enlarge
Environmental surveys determine the enviromental impact on the population.
Source: Siegfried Abelmann / Umweltbundesamt

Table of Contents



Population Sample

Cross sectional sample of 4822 adults aged 18 to 69 years 120 sampling locations (response rate: 54.5 percent) representative of the German population with regard to community size, age and gender.


Metals in blood and urine

Exposure to heavy metals and arsenic of the general population has reached a low level but should still be kept under surveillance. The findings of GerES are valuable for the evaluation of smaller studies addressing specific problems. The concentrations of lead, cadmium, and mercury in blood are summarised in Lead, cadmium, and mercury in blood (µg/l) of the population in Germany.

Arsenic, cadmium, and mercury in urine (µg/l and µg/g Creatinine) of the population in Germany shows the results for arsenic, cadmium, and mercury in urine.

In percentages of the population in Germany with an elevated arsenic, lead, cadmium, or mercury content in blood and urine the individual concentrations are compared with the HBM values which are defined by the Human Biomonitoring Commission (HBC) of the Federal Environment Agency.


Organochlorine compounds in blood

Organochlorine compounds are lipophilic and accumulate in the body. Therefore age and the concentration of lipids in serum are important factors for the concentration of organochlorine compounds in blood (Factors influencing PCB, HCB and DDE levels in blood of the population in Germany). According to the amounts of organochlorines produced and used, the place of residence in East-Germany in 1988 (before unification) is associated with a higher level of PCBs and HCB and a lower level of DDE. BMI, the body mass index, is positively associated with the level of organochlorine compounds (HCB, DDE). The concentration in blood decreases for PCBs and HCB with gain of weight.

The influence of age and BMI is shown in Figure two. The results demonstrate the accumulation of organochlorine compounds in the body with increasing age. The higher concentration with a higher BMI reflects the exposure via fat containing food. The concentration of organochlorine compounds has decreased in the past decades.

An overview on the analysed concentrations of organochlorine compounds in blood of the German population is given in Table Concentrations of organochlorine compounds in blood (µg/l) of the population in Germany.

Only in 1.7 percent and 5.2 percent of the samples alpha-HCH and gamma-HCH were detected. Beta-HCH was found in 34 percent of the samples. The percentage of beta-HCH values higher than the limit of quantification (0,1 µg/l) increased with increasing age from 8.6 percent at the age 18 to 25 years to 66 percent at age 60 to 69 years.


PAH metabolites in urine

The concentrations of PAH metabolites in urine were analysed in a subsample of GerES III. In general PAH emissions are caused by incomplete combustion of organic material. Smoking is the main route of exposure for smokers. PAH metabolites in urine (µg/l and µg/g Creatinine) gives an overview on the results for smokers and nonsmokers.

The concentration of 1-Hydroxypyrene in urine of the population in Germany depends on the number of daily smoked cigarettes (Factors influencing the concentration of 1-Hydroxypyrene in urine (GM)). The occurrence of a decentral heating system in the houses is related to a higher concentration of 1-Hydroxypyrene in urine. In addition people from East-Germany show higher concentrations of 1-Hydroxypyrene in urine than people from West-Germany.



PCP and other chlorophenols in urine

PCP and other chlorophenols were analysed in a randomly selected subsample of 692 subjects of GerES III. PCP is an important environmental pollutant because it is widespread, toxic and dioxine contaminated. The other chlorophenols are used in industry, agriculture and private homes for various purposes. In Table “Chlorophenols in urine of the German population” an overview is given on the analysed concentrations in urine of the German population.


Precious metals in urine

Due to the use of platinum for catalytic converters for automobiles the concentration is on the increase in all environmental media. In GerES III platinum, gold and iridium were added to the list of substances to be analysed. In the urine of a randomly chosen subsample of 1080 subjects platinum as well as gold und iridium were analysed. The results are shown in Table “Precious metals in urine of the German population”.

The number of dental inlays, crowns and bridge elements has a clear influence on the mean level of platinum in urine (Figure Platinum in urine of the German population). Road traffic was not found to be a significant factor.


Nicotine and Cotinine in urine

Nicotine and Cotinine are bio-markers for ETS (environmental tobacco smoke) exposure. Never smokers have a mean nicotine concentration in urine of less than 2 µg/l and a mean concentration of Cotinine of less than 4 µg/l (Table Nicotine and Cotinine in urine (µg/l) and Nicotine and Cotinine in urine (µg/g creatinine)). Figure Nikotine in urine of German non-smokers and Cotinine in urine of German non-smokers show that an influence of ETS exposure on the nicotine and Cotinine concentration could be detected.


Elements in household drinking water

Tap water samples (first draw samples from the specific tap drinking and cooking water is normally drawn of) were taken in the households of the participants to get an insight in the potential uptake of pollutants from drinking water. The quality of drinking water is influenced by the corrosion of pipe material and fittings (cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc). In addition boron and arsenic were analysed. Table Metals, boron, and arsenic in the household drinking water gives an overview on data analysed.

In Figure Elements in household drinking water of the West- and East-German population data from 1990/92 and 1998 in West- and East-Germany are compared. The concentrations of lead, boron, cadmium, nickel, and zinc in 1998 (GerES III) are higher in East- than in West-Germany. In West-Germany the concentration of copper was higher. A considerable reduction of lead, cadmium and zinc was inter alia observed in East-Germany from GerES II to GerES III. The trends over time can be explained by redevelopment measures especially in East-Germany.


Biocides and other substances in house dust

In the framework of GerES III (1997-1999) house dust samples were analysed using the content of the study participant's vacuum cleaner bags as available at the time. 750 randomly selected dust samples were analysed for biocides including pyrethroids and a subset of 200 samples was analysed for flame proofing agents, plasicisers and polychlorinated sulfonamid diphenylethers.

In Germany the use of PCP, DDT and PCBs is prohibited, the use of lindane is restricted. Polychlorinated sulfonamid diphenylethers have been used in moth repellents. Propoxur, methoxychlor, chlorpyrifos and pyrethroids are active agents in a lot of pesticides. Flame proofing agents are important chemicals used in industry and can be detected in all environmental compartments. Some of these substances are suspected to be endocrine substances and have shown a carcinogenic potential to animals.

Included in the programme of GerES III:


cyfluthrin, lambda-cyhalothrin, cypermethrin, deltamethrin, empenthrin d-phenothrin, permethrin and their synergist PBO


DEP (diethylphthalate), DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl)-phthalate), DMP (dimethylphthalate), DiBP (diisobutylphthalate), DnBP (di-n-Butylphthalate), BBP (butylbenzylphthalate), DnOP (di-n-octylphthalate).


TBEP (tris-(2-butoxyethyl)-phosphate), TCEP (tris-(2-chlorethyl)-phosphate), TEHP (tris-(2-ethylhexyl)-phosphate), TCP (trikresylphosphate), TPP (triphenylphosphate).

The following Table does not show the pyrethroides cyfluthrin, cypermethrin, deltamethrin, d-phenothrin and lambda-cyhalothrin, which were detected in less than 3 percent of the samples.

Samples and Parameters

  • Whole blood

    cadmium, lead, mercury;
    subsamples: PCB, DDE, HCB, alpha-HCH, beta-HCH, gamma-HCH

  • Morning urine

    arsenic, cadmium, mercury, nicotine, Cotinine;
    subsamples: precious metals (platinum), pentachlorophenol and other chlorophenols, metabolites of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)

  • Tap water: ("first draw" sample)

    arsenic, boron, cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, zinc

  • Content of vacuum cleaner bags

    subsamples: PCB, biocides, phthalates and organo phosphates

  • Volume III

    Becker, K., S. Kaus, C. Krause, P. Lepom, C. Schulz, M. Seiwert, B. Seifert:
    (German Environmental Survey 1998, Vol. III: Human Biomonitoring. Pollutants in Blood and Urine of the German Population).

  • Volume IV

    Becker, K., S. Kaus, D. Helm, C. Krause, E. Meyer, C. Schulz, M. Seiwert:
    German Environmental Survey 1998, Vol. IV: Drinking Water. Elements in Tap Water of the German Population

  • Volume V

    K. Becker, S. Kaus, M. Seifert, F. Heidrich, E. Rosskamp, C. Schulz, C. Schlüter, B. Seifert:
    German Environmental Survey 1998, Vol. V: House Dust. Pollutants in House Dust of the German Population

  • Volume VI

    Heinrich, J.:
    German Environmental Survey, Vol. VI: Nicotine and Cotinine in Urine of the German Population

  • Volume VII

    Benemann, J., K. Bromen, N. Lehmann, A. Marr, K.-H. Jöckel:
    German Environmental Survey 1998, Vol. VII: Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, and Precious Metals in Blood and Urine

  • Volume VIII

    Bernigau, W., K.E. Lorber, M. Wilken:
    German Environmental Survey 1998, Vol.: VIII: PAH Metabolites in Urine of the German Population