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Why human biomonitoring is important for public health and policy-makers

Support from EU decision-makers for human biomonitoring is growing. Measuring contaminants in our bodies can help politicians to fine tune or even launch new policies, allowing them to identify priorities and provide an early warning on potential threats to public health.

Human biomonitoring measures the levels of synthetic chemicals in human tissues and fluids. The tests are carried out on blood, hair, saliva or urine samples (e.g. mercury levels can be tested in a small lock of hair).

This type of monitoring is important for several reasons. First, it checks our current exposure to pollutants. Today, approximately 70,000 - 100,000 synthetic chemicals are on the market and some are building up in the human body. Some are suspected of causing long term health effects. Second, human biomonitoring can show whether existing laws are working effectively or whether stronger action is required to reduce exposure to synthetic hazardous chemicals.

Political support to carry out human biomonitoring has steadily grown in the last years, at EU and national level. HBM was a priority of the EU Environment and Health Action Plan in 2004-2010. The EU funded COPHES/DEMOCOPHES project has worked towards an EU framework for biomonitoring and a first pilot study was carried out. The results were launched in October 2012 and suggest that all mothers and children have chemicals their bodies that should not be there.

The information brought together on mercury has also allowed researchers to carry out an economic assessment that showed that the EU could save up to 9 billion EUR a year by reducing exposure to mercury.

But this important biomonitoring work needs further financial and political support. This is why HEAL was pleased to see that MEPs of the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety recently gave their backing for future EU activities in their vote on the 7th EAP.

Originally posted on 10 May 2013

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