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| EU seeks views on how to measure environmental pollutants in human populations

A meeting of fifty stakeholders involved in studies measuring environmental pollutants accumulating in man was jointly organised by EU DG Environment , European Centre for Ecotoxicology & Toxicology of Chemicals (ECETOC) and Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL). This stakeholder workshop on human biomonitoring considered issues surrounding data interpretation and ethical considerations and provided feedback on a proposed EU wide pilot project that might be launched next year if sufficient Member States are interested to participate. A coherent EU wide approach to human biomonitoring studies is required since scientists in different member states are conducting human biomonitoring studies in different ways, interpret the data resulting from them differently and have different ethical requirements for how the studies are carried out. The development of a coherent approach to Human biomonitoring in Europe and its testing in a pilot project is foreseen in the European Environment and Health Action Plan 2004-2010. However, strong involvement and support from Member States is essential. This Stakeholder Workshop on Human Biomonitoring was held 6-7th Dec 2006 in Brussels, hosted by the Flemish Minister of Environment. Attendees were drawn from policy makers from EU member states, Non-Governmental Organisations, European Chemical Industries, and Academia.

EU seeks views on how to measure environmental pollutants in human populations

The European Commission explained that "the EU has a role in clarifying the framework for EU Human Biomonitoring Studies and that this constructive and fruitful workshop initiated dialogue between the stakeholders across Europe and has provided conclusions that will help develop a coherent approach to human biomonitoring studies in the context of the Seventh Framework for Community Research which will contribute to the implementation of the European Environment and Health Action Plan.
"The proposed EU pilot project is a welcome and timely initiative that will deal with many of the difficulties we have had in the past for example with laboratories having different levels of expertise. This project will enable us to get an appreciation on what is actually happening across Europe" said Chris Money from ECETOC.
Genon Jenson from HEAL highlighted that "the potential benefits to public health of EU Biomonitoring are tremendous. One highlight from the workshop was the consensus between stakeholders that ethical and communication problems of any EU wide programme are surmountable provided we use good research design and transparent communication processes."

An EC workshop on issues surrounding data interpretation and ethical considerations of Human Biomonitoring was held 6-7th Dec 2006 in Brussels. Attendees included fifty individuals representing the involved stakeholder groups - policy makers from EU member states, Non-Governmental Organisations, European Chemical Industries, and Academia. The objectives of the meeting were to clarify the framework for human biomonitoring in Europe, to help develop a coherent approach to human biomonitoring across Europe and to verify the preliminary results related to the EU coordination action ESBIO ( on human biomonitoring, funded by DG Research via the 6th Framework Programme of Research with a wider audience.
Day 1 examined the use of Human Biomonitoring (HBM) data within environment and human health programmes, and how markers of exposure or effect may be used to monitor population exposure and be integrated into broader disease and health effects surveillance systems. Presentations included a proposed approach for interpreting HBM data that considered the different types of HBM study, the data that might be expected from these and their relevance in risk and exposure assessment; an overview of WWF HBM campaigns conducted over the last 3 years in the UK and across Europe to draw attention to levels of persistent, bioaccumulative and/or endocrine disrupting chemicals in the general population (including children); and the protocol used by WHO in its recent programme measuring levels of persistent organic pollutants in the breast milk of women from 26 world-wide countries. The current work of work package 3 of the ESBIO project was described. This WP describes a phased approach that aims at translating HBM data into risk management and policy support. The approach includes aggregation and quantification of data, identification of deviating HBM values, identification of potential sources and evaluation of priorities for action.

The attendees then split into working groups, each with representatives from all of the stakeholder groups, to discuss the objectives of a proposed EU wide HBM study, and the advantages/disadvantages of HBM data. Lively discussion groups reported back to a round up session that concluded:

  • A harmonised European HBM programme is necessary and timely.
  • Harmonised protocols for sample collection, storage, analysis and a standard strategy for the interpretation will lead to data comparability and significant saving in resources across the EU.
  • One of the objectives is to build capacity across Europe and a functional network of laboratories and may lead to the development of centres of excellence.
  • Any interpretation framework should be transparent, understandable by stakeholders, deliver consistency across users and enable available HBM data to be placed in a risk based setting.

Ethical considerations of HBM studies were debated on the second day. Examples (real and hypothetical) of the ethical problems that can be encountered by researchers were considered and the objectives of work package 4 of the ESBIO project were described. This work package aims to identify and analyse major ethical problems related to HBM studies across the EU member states. Breakout groups to collect the experiences and viewpoints of the participants on key ethical questions followed these presentations. All groups concluded that transparency in the aims and realistic outputs from such studies were key requirements especially at the planning stage. The meeting also concluded that despite differences in data protection and ethical approval legislation across the Member states, a level of harmonisation can be reached that allows a more coordinated approach to HBM in the EU as envisaged in the upcoming call for proposals under the Seventh Framework Programme for Community Research which will respond to Action 3 of the EU Environment and Health Action Plan.

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