Biomonitoring still perceived as ‘controversial’ science

Analysis of blood, tissue, urine or hair samples to detect the presence of certain substances in the human body, known as human biomonitoring (HBM), can provide a useful link between environmental pollution and health, but the interpretation of data is still controversial, panellists agreed during a Green Week debate.

“The main advantage of human biomonitoring is that it bring pollution closer to people concerns, it’s in our body, in our blood,” said Ludwine Casteleyn, from the Centre for Human Genetics of Leuven, speaking at a Green Week session on Biomonitoring on 12 June. However, she said “the complete potential of biomonitoring is not realised…we are learning ‘how much we may have in our body’ but not always how to respond to what we find out”. 

The lack of scientific knowledge hinder risk interpretation: “The presence of chemicals does not necessarily mean the presence of risk,” said Roel Smolders, of the Flemish Institute for Technological Research. 

According to Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), an environmental group, the lack of testing of some chemicals and the inadequacy of certain scientific testing methods are major issues to be addressed. “Development of the foetal brain can be disrupted by exposure to hazardous chemicals at levels that would be less damaging for adults. Exposure to even extremely low doses of certain chemicals can cause major changes in the foetal brain and to the future health and fertility of the child.” 

“There are situations in which there are many uncertainties and un-measured or poorly documented impacts. A multidisciplinary approach is required to fill the gap,” concluded Marco Martuzzi, of the World Health Organization (WHO).

At a meeting of the WHO Children Environment and Health Action Programme for Europe, on 13 June 2007, chemical industry group CEFIC outlined that “a solid understanding of the various factors impacting on health is key to improving the well-being of future generations”.

“Co-operation and co-ordination between all responsible parties are essential for efficient action and results,” added Gernot Klotz, CEFIC’s research and innovation executive director.

Further development of Human Biomonitoring is the aim of Action 3 of the European Environment and Heath Action Plan 2004-2010. The European Commission is supported by an Implementation Group on Human Biomonitoring and an expert team (ESBIO) to prepare an EU pilot project to develop and test the tools that are required to harmonise and co-ordinate methodologies at EU level.


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