AMGC Seminar - Human biomonitoring
Human biomonitoring is one of the most direct methods to measure the impact of pollutants in people. The human biomonitoring program of the Flemish Centre of Expertise on Environment and Health investigates the very complex relation between environmental pollution and human health by measuring selected pollutants and certain health effects in humans, using biomarkers. Since 2002 a human biomonitoring network has been established in Flanders (Belgium) as part of a program on environmental health surveillance. The first Flemish Environment and Health Study (FLEHS I 2002-2006) “monitoring for action” included more than 4,400 participants recruited from 8 regions in Flanders with different environmental characteristics. The participants were recruited by a stratified clustered multi-stage design and belonged to 3 different age groups (newborns and their mothers, 14-15 yrs old adolescents and 50-65 yrs adults). The first cycle of the HBM evaluated exposure to traditional pollutants such as cadmium, lead, dioxin-like compounds, hexachlorobenzene (HCB), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), para,para-dichlorodiphenyldichloro-ethylene (p,p’DDE), polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and benzene and showed that living in areas with different environmental pressure yields a different fingerprint of pollutants in the body indicating the importance of region based environmental policies and priorities. The possibility to obtain geographically differentiated information on environmental health was exploited further in the second cycle of the human biomonitoring program (FLEHS II 2007-2011). A participatory process was used to propose and finally select 2 hot spots of interest for human biomonitoring. The hypothesis was tested whether in the hot spot areas specific biomonitoring data (exposure and effects) are different from reference values that have been obtained over Flanders. As part of the second cycle of the biomonitoring program we obtained reference data for a much wider set of exposure biomarkers than in the first cycle, this is emphasized by the slogan “What are you carrying with you?” Reference values for more than 50 biomarkers were generated. In addition we have used the HBM data to estimate the positive effects on health as we have seen decreases in biomarker levels of specific metals and persistent organic pollutants over time. On the other hand, FLEHS III has allowed to observe that for some chemicals there are no decreasing time trends yet. We are also concerned about levels of chemicals that emerge from new life styles and habits and for which we have not yet collected data. We have also demonstrated that levels of environmental exposures are related to differences in socio economic status of the study participants emphasising inequity of exposures and presumably also in health risks. The need for targeted environmental protection guidance for subgroups in the population in relation to life style and SES related is warranted. The third cycle of the program (2012-2015) is currently running. Results are expected by the end of this year.