Human Biomonitoring (HBM) involves the analysis of natural and synthetic substances and their metabolites in the human body. Samples used in HBM can include blood, urine, breast milk or other tissues. It is an established method in occupational and environmental medicine. HBM studies on the general population are playing an increasingly important role in the international debate on human health and the environment.
The European Commission sees HBM as an essential element of its strategy to integrate health and the environment through monitoring certain substances (biomarkers) in humans that reflect environmental exposures, diseases and genetic susceptibility and their potential relationship. The EU’s Environment and Health Action Plan 2004-2010 is developing a coherent approach to HBM in conjunction with Member States.
Modern analytical technology can detect the presence of chemical substances at extremely low (trace) levels. The publication of raw HBM data without any interpretation or in the context of an integrated health risk assessment has caused controversy, public anxiety and made this issue politically sensitive.
Cefic position on Human Biomonitoring
The European chemical industry is convinced of the benefits of correctly performed HBM studies for occupational safety and public health protection. But it is essential that results are put into context, including information such as the source of the substance(s) detected, when the exposure occurred and whether the level detected is causing any harm.
To achieve a better interpretation of HBM results we must move from the simple identification of substances to establishing causal relationships between their presence and health effects. This is essential if effective measures to improve public health are to be put in place.
Working with academia and governments, the chemical industry is building and sharing HBM data and health trends to allow such interpretation. The industry is also investing in the development of new technologies to improve our capacity to interpret HBM data and to perform risk assessment. This includes research in genomics and toxicogenomics that can offer valuable insights on the effects of chemicals at the molecular level.
Cefic considers HBM as an important tool for gathering information on human exposure to various environmental factors - of which chemicals is only one - and in particular for determining long-term trends in the population.
Pan European collaboration
Working with EU Member States and NGOs, Cefic is a partner in a major HBM project (COPHES) involving 35 collaborators under the Commission’s FP7 research programme. Starting in December 2009, this three-year project will deliver a coherent, harmonised HBM strategy framework for policy making. The framework will bring together experiences from existing and planned HBM activities in Europe. It will investigate what is needed to improve and support better comparability of HBM data across the EU.
This harmonisation will improve the quantification of exposure of the general European population to existing and emerging pollutants and determine reference values for exposure, while better data comparability will support policy making.