Brussels, 03 Nov 2005
The Commission is supporting a new initiative aimed at establishing a European approach to human biomonitoring (HBM); a technique, based on tissue and fluid analysis, for assessing human exposure to and the health effects of environmental pollutants.
The ESBIO project (expert team to support biomonitoring) is funded under the 'Life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health' priority of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). It brings together 22 experts from 17 EU Member States and Croatia, and their ultimate aim is to improve the availability and comparability of HBM data within and between countries in Europe.
CORDIS News spoke to the project's coordinator, Reinhard Joas from BiPRO in Munich, Germany, and asked him why Europe needs a coordinated approach to biomonitoring. 'There are three main reasons,' he said. 'First, public money and other resources will be used more efficiently if we combine our previous experiences and results. A European approach will also provide better comparability between data, leading to improved recommendations for policy makers. And third, it will enable the collection of Europe-wide data which we currently lack in order to serve EU policymakers, for example in drawing up the European Environment and Health strategy.'
The main reason why Europe has lacked such a coordinated approach until now is because the national funders of biomonitoring projects have been more concerned with gathering national data. But with an increasing number of health initiatives being undertaken at EU level, there is now also a demand for European data.
The major focus of the project will be to develop EU-wide standards and protocols for the collection and use of biomonitoring data, and to define how HBM results can be most effectively integrated with environmental and other health data. The ESBIO project will also feed into the European pilot project on human biomonitoring that will be launched at the end of 2006.
There are challenges as well as advantages to adopting a continent-wide approach, however. Dr Joas admits that establishing causal links between environmental pollutants and human health is extremely tricky, even when dealing with relatively small sections of the population, such as occupational groups, let alone the entire European population. 'But, we have a great deal of immission, emission and health data available, so it's worth trying to see how they may fit with each other [...] and at the very least this can suggest how we should refine data collection and use,' he argues.
Of course, there are other uses for such data in addition to simply establishing direct bridges between environmental pollutants and health effects. For example, in the last two decades most EU countries have introduced policies to reduce the levels of lead in petrol and other products due to concerns about its health effects. One would expect such policies, if effective, to translate into reduced concentrations of lead in the blood of the population, and HBM data could then be used to test how successful such policies have been.
In order to ensure that the benefits of a coordinated approach are spread as far and wide as possible, as part of the project the ESBIO partners will establish a European inventory of previous and ongoing HBM studies. 'This will be an open platform for the exchange of information, and will really focus experiences and enable better cooperation between the involved actors,' believes Dr Joas.
In addition, the ESBIO partners will undertake some basic research activities themselves, as well as developing communications strategies to promote the use of HBM in policymaking. According to Dr Joas, effective communications are particularly important in the field of HBM as 'results can be misleading if not properly explained'.
The overriding objective of the project is clear, however. 'The ideal legacy of project will be to convince policy makers of the value of a European approach to human biomonitoring - to show them that with such an approach they get more results for the same money,' concluded Dr Joas.