First Steps Toward Harmonized Human Biomonitoring in Europe: Demonstration Project to Perform Human Biomonitoring on a European Scale

Environ Health Perspect. 2015 Mar;123(3):255-63. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1408616. Epub 2014 Dec 11.


Background: For Europe as a whole, data on internal exposure to environmental chemicals do not yet exist. Characterization of the internal individual chemical environment is expected to enhance understanding of the environmental threats to health.

Objectives: We developed and applied a harmonized protocol to collect comparable human biomonitoring data all over Europe.

Methods: In 17 European countries, we measured mercury in hair and cotinine, phthalate metabolites, and cadmium in urine of 1,844 children (5-11 years of age) and their mothers. Specimens were collected over a 5-month period in 2011-2012. We obtained information on personal characteristics, environment, and lifestyle. We used the resulting database to compare concentrations of exposure biomarkers within Europe, to identify determinants of exposure, and to compare exposure biomarkers with health-based guidelines.

Results: Biomarker concentrations showed a wide variability in the European population. However, levels in children and mothers were highly correlated. Most biomarker concentrations were below the health-based guidance values.

Conclusions: We have taken the first steps to assess personal chemical exposures in Europe as a whole. Key success factors were the harmonized protocol development, intensive training and capacity building for field work, chemical analysis and communication, as well as stringent quality control programs for chemical and data analysis. Our project demonstrates the feasibility of a Europe-wide human biomonitoring framework to support the decision-making process of environmental measures to protect public health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / urine
  • Cadmium / urine
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cotinine / urine*
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism*
  • Environmental Pollutants / urine
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Hair / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mercury / analysis
  • Mothers
  • Phthalic Acids / urine


  • Biomarkers
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Phthalic Acids
  • Cadmium
  • phthalic acid
  • Mercury
  • Cotinine