Exposure to brominated flame retardants, perfluorinated compounds, phthalates and phenols in European birth cohorts: ENRIECO evaluation, first human biomonitoring results, and recommendations

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2013 Jun;216(3):230-42. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2012.05.009. Epub 2012 Jul 12.


There are emerging concerns about potential effects on child health and development of early-life exposure to substances such as brominated flame retardants (BFRs), perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), phthalates and phenols (including bisphenol A (BPA)); pregnancy and birth cohort studies are ideally designed to study such concerns prospectively. As part of the ENRIECO project, we evaluated existing human biomonitoring data for these substances in European birth cohorts and develop recommendations for more harmonized methods that will enable combination and comparison of cohort data in the future. The ENRIECO inventory shows that 20 European birth cohorts have measured or are measuring BFRs (N=10), PFCs (N=11), phthalates (N=16) or phenols (N=8). Generally, samples were collected prenatally or at birth and measurements involved few subjects in each cohort (a few hundred maximum). Biological matrices, timing, and analytical methods of the measurements varied between cohorts. Few cohorts have measured at multiple time points or in children. In European cohorts, levels of BFRs were very low and at least 10-fold lower than in US; levels of PFCs and phthalates have decreased over the last decade since the phasing out of certain of these compounds; concentrations of phenols are comparable to those in the US. Although there is little published data in the cohorts now, many measurements are ongoing and we recommend that cohorts start working towards combined and comparison studies. Specific recommendations for use of existing data include the development of conversion models for the different media used for measurement of persistent chemicals, and inter-laboratory comparisons and calibrations. Recommendations for further data collection include more evaluation of exposure to these chemicals in children; repeated measurements of non-persistent chemicals; validation and harmonisation of questionnaires; and the development of mechanisms for fast European birth cohort response for the detection and prioritisation of new chemicals of concern.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*
  • Europe
  • Flame Retardants / analysis
  • Fluorocarbons / analysis
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / analysis
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Brominated / analysis
  • Phenols / analysis
  • Phthalic Acids / analysis


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Flame Retardants
  • Fluorocarbons
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers
  • Hydrocarbons, Brominated
  • Phenols
  • Phthalic Acids