Every day we are bombarded with chemicals, both natural and man-made. While not all of these are harmful, many of them are. EU citizens consumed over 200 million tons of chemicals in 2020 suspected of being hazardous to human health, including over 34 million tons of carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic chemicals. “Exposure of humans to chemicals is a growing issue, not least because chemicals are being used in everyday products ranging from food contact materials to clothes, cosmetics and toys,” explains Marike Kolossa, toxicologist at the German Environment Agency. “In addition, chemical use and production are growing faster than the global population.” To establish a baseline of evidence for chemical threats across the European Union, the EU-funded HBM4EU project carried out a large-scale human biomonitoring (HBM) programme. “HBM4EU sought to shed light on the question of just how much humans are exposed to selected chemicals and chemical groups, and analyse the cumulative and aggregate exposure,” adds Kolossa, project coordinator. “Overall, effective use of the HBM data through the project leads to an improved chemical risk assessment in the EU,” she says.
Enhancing HBM across the EU
HBM is the measurement of chemicals and/or their metabolites in human samples such as urine and blood. This identifies the whole internal body burden of a chemical, and if used correctly and widely can identify exposure trends and distributions across populations. The HBM4EU project harmonised HBM procedures, tools and data across the EU, bringing together existing or newly generated data collected between 2014 and 2021 from all European regions. The main purpose was to collect data, make it comparable where possible and use it to determine the internal exposure level of people in Europe. This also highlighted knowledge gaps in both internal and external exposure levels. In addition, HBM4EU developed new methods to identify human internal exposure to environmental and occupational chemicals and establish the causal links with human health effects. The project set up a series of National Hubs, creating an HBM network including policymakers across Europe.
Closing the gap between policy and science
The results from HBM4EU not only help to protect European citizen health and well-being, but empower people to make well-informed and responsible decisions concerning their consumer and behavioural choices. National- and EU-level policymakers and agencies benefit from high-quality data for policy decisions, while the scientific community benefits from improved chemical exposure data. “HBM4EU was designed to close the gap between policy and science,” Kolossa adds.
HBM4EU as part of a healthier EU ecosystem
As exposure levels for different substances varied across the continent, this demonstrated that an EU-wide sustainable HBM system is urgently needed. Yet HBM4EU’s full potential can only be reached if it finds a sustainable form within an EU policy directive such as REACH, the team explains. “HBM4EU results underline the need for important EU strategies such as the European Green Deal, the zero pollution ambition for sustainability and the farm to fork strategy,” remarks Kolossa. “At the same time, they supply the data against which the success – or failure – of the strategies’ operationalisation can – and will – be measured,” she says.
HBM4EU, human, biomonitoring, chemicals, exposure, health, strategy, policy, science