EU Science Hub

Human exposure

A person is exposed to many environmental factors within his/her local environment: chemical emissions from consumer products (particles, air pollutants), environmental noise, molds etc. These chemical, physical, and biological factors play an important role in people’s health, especially in the development and progression of disease. Assessing human exposure of individuals or populations to environmental factors is an important component and integral part of human health risk assessment. To achieve this a fundamental shift towards trans-disciplinary collaborations, that would link exposure and health sciences, is necessary.

We support the exposure science community and EU environmental and public health related policies to develop harmonised, integrated and robust methodologies, tools and guidance for occupational and non-occupational exposure assessments concerning different routes (air, water, soil) and pathways (inhalation, ingestion, dermal contact) of exposure and to reliably apply these in various legislative frameworks and policies (consumer products, energy efficiency buildings, environmental noise, human biomonitoring).

We collaborate with other European Commission Services, EU Member States, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the European Environment Agency (EEA), NGOs and other strategic partners and stakeholders on an international scale for the development of holistic, harmonised and standardised concepts and approaches for human exposure which are based on innovative and state of the art monitoring and modelling methodologies of environmental stressors.

Exposure and Health Impact Assessment Methodologies

Stressors such as air pollution and noise have been confirmed as being among the leading causes of  environment related disease in many European countries (EEA-JRC report on Environment and Human Health, 2013). The prevention of such diseases, arising from chemical, biological and physical stressors, through improved outdoor and indoor air quality is also part of the 7th EU Environmental Programme and the WHO Regional Priority Goals 3 and 4 as reflected in the WHO Ministerial Declaration on Environment and Health (Parma Declaration on Environment and Health, 2010). This includes the development of a consistent and rational approach to human bio-monitoring as a tool to assist evidence-based public health and environmental measures.

Various pieces of EU legislation require that the health impact of exposure to chemicals and other physical and biological factors is accurately assessed. Analysing the effects of these factors over a sustained period is a highly complex process. We are actively supporting the development of appropriate integrated methodologies and software tools which aim to ensure the systematic and standardised assessment of the consequences of exposure to these factors and other agents referenced in EU legislation.

Assessing Exposure and Health Risks in Energy Efficient Buildings

Europeans spend on average almost 90% of their time inside various types of buildings (homes, offices, restaurants, bars, hotels, shops and other public buildings). Exposure to outdoor and indoor chemicals, noise, radon, particulate matter, dust and dampness, moulds and other biological agents (which are released from numerous building materials and consumer products such as paints, furniture and fittings, printers, cleaning agents etc.) has been linked to increased prevalence of respiratory symptoms, allergies and asthma as well as perturbation of the immunological system.

Assessing air exposure and health risks in buildings is a complex issue due to a wide number and type of sources and pollutants, exposure levels and health implications as well as the differences in cultural habits, living style, building stock and climates across the EU. We have been working to develop a holistic approach for the built environment in support of relevant EU policies which will make it safer, healthier, more energy efficient and sustainable.



Assessing exposure and burden of disease due to environmental noise

Environmental noise is due to transport, industrial and recreational activities. We are involuntarily exposed to it in our workplace, on the streets and in our homes. It is now recognised that prolonged exposure can lead to significant health effects, both physical and mental. The EU's Environmental Noise Directive 2002/49/EC sets out to monitor noise pollution and develop long-term policies for noise reduction. We provide technical support for the implementation of the directive.

Linking Human Exposure to Human Biomonitoring

Human biomonitoring is an analytical approach which focuses directly on measuring the volume of toxic chemical compounds present in the body. This is often, performed through the analysis of bio-fluids such as blood and urine. The way in which these chemicals accumulate in air, soil or water may be quite different from their behaviour in the human body. Analysis of environmental chemicals in human tissues is the most effective way of knowing which of these we should be most wary of. This is an important tool for assessing human exposure to environmental substances and in some cases their potential health risks.  It is seen as an essential element in a strategy for environmental health impact assessment and we are involved in the development of a coherent approach to the collection and analysis of this important data.