Launch of the European Human Biomonitoring Initiative

The HBM4EU consortium included lead partners from each of the participating countries, as well as the EEA

A conference to launch the “European Human Biomonitoring Initiative” (HBM4EU) took place on 8 December 2016 in Brussels. It was followed by a half-day stakeholders meeting on 9 December.

HBM4EU is a joint effort of 26 countries and the European Commission, co-funded by Horizon 2020, to coordinate and advance human biomonitoring (HBM) activities in Europe. The stated aim is “to provide better evidence in support of policy making”.

The launch event introduced the initiative and presented some of the key activities to be undertaken. Long-standing HBM activities from programmes outside the European Union, including US, Canada and Japan, were be presented to give participants a perspective on how the EU project fits into the international landscape.

Launch of EU human biomonitoring initiative, env-health, 8 December 2016.

Although 26 countries are involved, biomonitoring will take place in 25 countries, including 22 EU members and three non-members. They are Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom. Information on the national organisations participating in the consortium can be found here.

The nine substance groupings that will be the focus of the European Human Biomonitoring Initiative in the first two years (2017-2018) are:

  • phthalates and Hexamoll® DINCH,
  • bisphenols,
  • per-/polyfluorinated compounds,
  • flame retardants,
  • cadmium and chromium,
  • PAHs,
  • aniline family,
  • chemical mixtures,
  • and emerging substances.

A half-day technical consultation took place the following day. It will be the first in a series of more in-depth discussions with stakeholders that accompanies annual work plans. Génon Jensen, HEAL Executive Director spoke at the introductory session on the project and its stakeholder process on: “Human biomonitoring to inform and empower citizens”. This main session was followed by break-out groups on research and stakeholder expectations.

HEAL has become the informal coordinator on human biomonitoring for NGOs working on chemicals because of our long involvement in promoting human biomonitoring for better health and environmental policy. In 2006, HEAL undertook a small-scale biomonitoring programme on mercury, which resulted in health moving to the centre of international discussions on mercury.

More Information

  • The role of human biomonitoring in assessing and managing chemical risks,
  • The initial prioritisation exercise and selected substances,

Health Effects from Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Cost The U.S.

Yearly Exposure to Chemicals Dangerous to Hormone Function Burdens Americans with Hundreds of Billions in Disease Costs

Reducing chemical exposure could save Americans hundreds of billions of dollars in healthcare costs.

Concerns about the implications from the presence of harmful flame retardants chemicals in furniture products

Flame retardant free furniture is necessary to ensure protection of human health and the environment

Photo: HEAL’s Lisette van Vliet with Jamie Page, The Cancer Prevention and Education Society (CPES).

Policy Paper PDF.

The Case for Flame Retardant Free Furniture,, Brussels, Belgium, 8 September 2016.

HEAL joins a coalition of NGOs to stress concerns about the implications from the presence of harmful flame retardants chemicals in furniture products.

A variety of flammability standards for furniture exist in Europe. Some standards lead to the use of hazardous flame retardants chemicals without providing a demonstrated fire safety benefit. Flame retardants may cause serious harm to human health and the environment, they prevent the EU’s goal of a circular economy and impose a costly burden to furniture producers.

The signatories of this paper share and stress the same concerns about the implications from the presence of harmful flame retardants chemicals (FRs) in furniture products. More effective and less harmful ways to achieve fire safety exist and need to be evaluated.

Increasing evidence shows that an EU-action in favour of flame retardant free furniture is necessary to ensure protection of human health and the environment, and promote competition and fire safety.

Human exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals and male fertility

Are EDCs responsible for downward trends in male fertility?

A growing body of evidence suggests that endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) are contributing to declines in fertility. This case-control study found that EDCs were associated with changes to sex hormones and risk of subfertility in men. The researchers say environmental levels of these chemicals should be reduced to protect male fertility.


Human exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals and fertility: A case–control study in male subfertility patients, ScienceDirect, Environment International, Volume 84, November 2015, Pages 154–160.
Couple by kusmierz.

Dioxins, PCBs, chlorinated pesticides, brominated flame retardants, bisphenol A, triclosan, perfluorinated compounds and phthalates are known as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).

The aim of our study was to investigate whether higher exposure to EDCs is associated with increased subfertility in men.

We measured biomarkers of exposure in 163 men, recruited through four fertility clinics. According to WHO guidelines, we used a total motility count (TMC) of 20 million as cut-off value. We assigned patients to the case group when two semen samples – collected at least one week apart – had a TMC < 20 and to the control group when both samples had a TMC ≥ 20. To estimate the risk of subfertility and alteration in sex hormone concentrations we used multivariable-adjusted analysis, using logistic and linear regressions, respectively.

For an IQR increase in serum oxychlordane, the odds ratio for subfertility was 1.98 (95% CI: 1.07; 3.69). Furthermore, men with serum levels of BDE209 above the quantification limit had an odds of 7.22 (1.03; 50.6) for subfertility compared with those having values below the LOQ. Urinary levels of phthalates and triclosan were negatively associated with inhibin B and positively with LH. Urinary bisphenol A correlated negatively with testosterone levels.

Our study in men showed that internal body concentrations of endocrine disrupting chemicals are associated with an increased risk of subfertility together with alterations in hormone levels. The results emphasize the importance to reduce chemicals in the environment in order to safeguard male fertility.

The DES example

Do some clothing trap phthalates and flame retardants chemicals in their fibres?

How your washing machine could be damaging fertility

From Clothing to Laundry Water: Investigating the Fate of Phthalates, Brominated Flame Retardants, and Organophosphate
Esters, eurekalert, July 18, 2016. PDF.

The mystery of how some hormone-disrupting chemicals have come to be found in lakes and rivers has been solved.

It appears that human clothing can trap the chemicals in their fibres and come laundry day, they are released into water of the washing machine, before being swept away into the sewerage system.


The accumulation of phthalate esters, brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and organophosphate esters (OPEs) by clothing from indoor air and transfer via laundering to outdoors were investigated.

Over 30 days cotton and polyester fabrics accumulated 3475 and 1950 ng/dm2 ∑5phthalates, 65 and 78 ng/dm2 ∑10BFRs, and 1200 and 310 ng/dm2 ∑8OPEs, respectively. Planar surface area concentrations of OPEs and low molecular weight phthalates were significantly greater in cotton than polyester and similar for BFRs and high molecular weight phthalates. This difference was significantly and inversely correlated with KOW, suggesting greater sorption of polar compounds to polar cotton. Chemical release from cotton and polyester to laundry water was >80% of aliphatic OPEs (log KOW < 4), < 50% of OPEs with an aromatic structure, 50−100% of low molecular weight phthalates (log KOW 4−6), and < detection−35% of higher molecular weight phthalates (log KOW > 8) and BFRs (log KOW > 6).

How your washing machine could be damaging fertility, telegraph, 10 AUGUST 2016.

These results support the hypothesis that clothing acts an efficient conveyer of soluble semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs) from indoors to outdoors through accumulation from air and then release during laundering. Clothes drying could as well contribute to the release of chemicals emitted by electric dryers. The results also have implications for dermal exposure.

Top Doctors, Scientists, Health Advocates calling for Stronger Action on Toxic Chemicals

Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks : Project TENDR

A unique coalition of top doctors, scientists and health advocates is calling for more aggressive regulation on chemicals found in common household items. The goal is to protect expectant mothers, infants and children from neurotoxic chemicals by stepping up efforts to curb air pollution, remediate old lead pipes, phase out certain pesticides, ban endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in food packaging and plastics and come up with a plan for getting rid of furniture laden with fire retardants.


Children in America today are at an unacceptably high risk of developing neurodevelopmental disorders that affect the brain and nervous system including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, intellectual disabilities, and other learning and behavioral disabilities. These are complex disorders with multiple causes—genetic, social, and environmental. The contribution of toxic chemicals to these disorders can be prevented.

Project TENDR: Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks. The TENDR Consensus Statement, Environtal Health Perspectives, DOI:10.1289/EHP358, July 2016.

Leading scientific and medical experts, along with children’s health advocates, came together in 2015 under the auspices of Project TENDR: Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks to issue a call to action to reduce widespread exposures to chemicals that interfere with fetal and children’s brain development. Based on the available scientific evidence, the TENDR authors have identified prime examples of toxic chemicals and pollutants that increase children’s risks for neurodevelopmental disorders. These include chemicals that are used extensively in consumer products and that have become widespread in the environment. Some are chemicals to which children and pregnant women are regularly exposed, and they are detected in the bodies of virtually all Americans in national surveys conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vast majority of chemicals in industrial and consumer products undergo almost no testing for developmental neurotoxicity or other health effects.

A Call for Action on Toxic Chemicals, The NY Times, 2016/07/01.

Perfume, scented lotions and shower gels little bottles by Jen R.

Based on these findings, we assert that the current system in the United States for evaluating scientific evidence and making health-based decisions about environmental chemicals is fundamentally broken. To help reduce the unacceptably high prevalence of neurodevelopmental disorders in our children, we must eliminate or significantly reduce exposures to chemicals that contribute to these conditions. We must adopt a new framework for assessing chemicals that have the potential to disrupt brain development and prevent the use of those that may pose a risk. This consensus statement lays the foundation for developing recommendations to monitor, assess, and reduce exposures to neurotoxic chemicals. These measures are urgently needed if we are to protect healthy brain development so that current and future generations can reach their fullest potential.

EDCs are contributing to declining male fertility in the developed world

Human exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals and fertility: a case–control study in male subfertility patients

Subfertility, the inability to conceive for a prolonged period, is a common problem, and becoming more so. It has generally been assumed that declining fertility rates are the result of changes to socio-economic and lifestyle factors, such as postponing having children in order to establish a career. However, accumulating evidence suggests increasing exposure to EDCs could also be contributing to downward trends in reproductive health.

Are endocrine disrupting chemicals responsible for downward trends in male fertility?, Science for Environment Policy News Alert, 7 January 2016.

Contaminants known to have hormone-disrupting properties include phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), triclosan, and a range of brominated and perfluorinated compounds. These emerging chemicals are present in a growing number of products, from personal care products and clothes to cooking materials and electrical equipment. Yet, even contaminants that are now banned or restricted can continue to affect human health, such as dioxins, PCBs and chlorinated pesticides.

This study aimed to investigate whether exposure to EDCs is associated with subfertility in men (defined as involuntary infertility, meaning that a couple has tried to conceive unsuccessfully for a year or longer). The researchers measured biomarkers of EDC exposure and key fertility parameters in 163 men recruited through four fertility clinics in Belgium. Semen samples were analysed following the guidelines of the World Health Organization, using a total motility count (TMC) of 20 million as a threshold value for normality.

Human exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals and fertility: A case–control study in male subfertility patients, ScienceDirect, Environment International, Volume 84, November 2015, Pages 154–160.
Couple by kusmierz.

The researchers recruited ‘cases’ – male partners of couples who were experiencing involuntary infertility– and ‘controls’ – male partners of couples with a documented or suspected female cause of infertility, or sperm donors.

Patients were assigned to the case group when two semen samples (collected at least one week apart) had a TMC less than 20 million. If both samples had a TMC of 20 million or above, the patient was assigned to the control group. Of the 163 patients, 80 met the criteria to be controls and 40 to be cases. Blood and urine samples were also taken to analyse levels of EDCs and sex hormones.

The study revealed associations between exposure and subfertility for a number of compounds, including:

  • Chlorinated pesticides (chlordane and HCB): A 50% increase (from the mean level in the control group) in serum concentration of oxychlordane (the primary metabolite of chlordane) was associated with a 1.98 increased risk of subfertility, a 33% decrease in sperm concentration and a 5% drop in sperm motility. For HCB, an approximate increase of 1.5 in serum concentration was associated with a 28% decrease in sperm concentration.
  • Brominated flame retardants (BDE209): Detectable levels of BDE209 in serum were associated with a 7.2 increased risk of subfertility and a 33% reduction in sperm motility.
  • Phthalates and triclosan: Levels of these compounds in urine were associated with the levels of two sex hormones (inhibin B and LH), which may reflect reduced testis function.
  • BPA: Urinary BPA correlated negatively with testosterone levels.

While serum levels of chlorinated pesticides and BDE209 reflect accumulated exposure in the body, and therefore are likely a sign of past exposure, urinary levels of phthalates, triclosan and BPA reflect more recent exposure, and may provide evidence for changes to fertility during adulthood.

This study shows that concentrations of EDCs in the male body are associated with an increased risk of subfertility, as well as changes to hormone levels, supporting the hypothesis that EDCs are contributing to declining male fertility in the developed world. The authors say their results highlight the importance of reducing the levels of these chemicals in the environment.


Prenatal exposure to flame retardants linked to poorer behavioral function in children

Children’s mental development could be stunted by chemicals found in couches and upholstery, carpet pads, electronics, some textiles and sofas…

New research from the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine suggests that prenatal exposure to flame retardants and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) commonly found in the environment may have a lasting effect on a child’s cognitive and behavioral development, known as executive function.


Maternal Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether (PBDE) Exposure and Thyroid Hormones in Maternal and Cord Sera: The HOME Study, Cincinnati, USA, Environ Health Perspect; DOI:10.1289/ehp.1408996, January 2016.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) reduce blood concentrations of thyroid hormones in laboratory animals, but it is unclear whether PBDEs disrupt thyroid hormones in pregnant women or newborn infants.

We investigated the relationship between maternal PBDE levels and thyroid hormone concentrations in maternal and cord sera.

We used data from the Health Outcomes and Measures of the Environment (HOME) Study, a prospective birth cohort of 389 pregnant women in Cincinnati, Ohio, who were enrolled from 2003 through 2006 and delivered singleton infants. Maternal serum PBDE concentrations were measured at enrollment (16 ± 3 weeks of gestation). Thyroid hormone concentrations were measured in maternal serum at enrollment (n = 187) and in cord serum samples (n = 256).

Median maternal serum concentrations of BDEs 28 and 47 were 1.0 and 19.1 ng/g lipid, respectively. A 10-fold increase in BDEs 28 and 47 concentrations was associated with a 0.85-μg/dL [95% confidence interval (CI): 0.05, 1.64] and 0.82-μg/dL (95% CI: 0.12, 1.51) increase in maternal total thyroxine concentrations (TT4), respectively. Both congeners were also positively associated with maternal free thyroxine (FT4). We also observed positive associations between BDE-47 and maternal total and free triiodothyronine (TT3 and FT3). A 10-fold increase in BDE-28 was associated with elevated FT3 concentrations (β = 0.14 pg/mL; 95% CI: 0.02, 0.26). In contrast, maternal PBDE levels were not associated with thyroid hormone concentrations in cord serum.

These findings suggest that maternal PBDE exposure, particularly BDEs 28 and 47, are associated with maternal concentrations of T4 and T3 during pregnancy.

Prenatal exposure to flame retardants linked to poorer behavioral function in children, sciencedaily, January 27, 2016.

New generation flames retardants chemicals escaping into breathed air at alarming levels

Inhalation is an important route that should be taken into consideration in assessments of flame retardants

Researchers report inhalation is an important exposure route for new generation of flame retardant chemicals. Memory foam.

As Washington state decides on stronger toxics law, residents are breathing flame retardants, by Brian Bienkowski, on Environmental Health News, January 25, 2016.

A new generation of chemicals added to furniture, building insulation and baby products like car seats to slow the spread of flames are escaping into air at higher levels than previously thought, according to a new study out of Washington state.

The findings come as Washington lawmakers decide on bolstering flame retardant bans. The state was one of the first to ban an earlier generation of retardants, known as PBDEs.

The new research found flame retardant chemicals used to replace polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) also escape, are ubiquitous in indoor air and suggest inhalation is a major route of exposure for people.

The compounds, called chlorinated organophosphate flame retardants, found in the study have been linked to cancer and reproductive problems, and some can alter hormones essential for development.

“We’ve been underestimating what total exposure is”

said Erika Schreder, staff scientist at the Washington Toxics Coalition and lead author of the study published this month in the scientific journal Chemosphere.

Researchers gave 10 people from Washington state an air sampler that simulates breathing to wear during a normal day: office work, commuting, hanging out at home. They tested for a suite of the new generation of chlorinated flame retardants and found all 10 were breathing some amount of them throughout the day.

Exposure to one of the most prevalent compounds was up to 30 times greater than ingesting the chemicals via dust. The distinction is important: dust exposure occurs largely through the mouth, previously thought to be the major exposure route for banned PBDEs.

“With PBDEs, inhalation wasn’t considered as important,” Inhalation of PBDEs accounted for between 10 and 20 percent of exposure, “With the replacements, we see quite a different picture.”

said Amina Salamova, an environmental chemist and researcher at Indiana University Bloomington who studies toxic pollutants.

Chlorinated flame retardants are used mostly in polyurethane foam, often in building insulation and everyday products such as furniture, children’s car seats and baby strollers. The compounds are substitutes for PBDEs, which were widely used as flame retardants until scientists reported they were building up in people and wildlife and various bans took hold.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers, has long maintained flame retardant chemicals are necessary to prevent fires and protect people. In response to the recent study, Bryan Goodman, director of product communications for the council, said in an email that

exposure via ingestion and inhalation is “anticipated and regulators generally take this into account” when assessing the risk of chemicals.

However, Salamova, who was not involved in the recent study, said the inhalation concerns raised by Schreder’s study were especially alarming and novel because it was levels of really small particles that were quite high. She said:

“These really go all the way down your air tract and penetrate into the lung tissue,”

While chlorinated flame retardants have been around for decades, Salamova said scientists have recently started to understand them as, at first, it was thought they weren’t harmful or able to accumulate in people and wildlife. However there is evidence the replacement are following the same path as PBDEs: chlorinated flame retardants have been found in household dust, children’s products, drinking water, and mother-toddlers pairs.

Two chlorinated flame retardants have been flagged by the state of California as carcinogens, and animal research suggests they may hamper brain development as well.

Washington state legislators introduced bills in the state House and Senate to ban five flame retardants from furniture and children’s products, which would also set up a system to make sure new replacements are safe. The bill includes flame retardants found in the air in the recent study. The House bill will have a hearing this Wednesday.

Erika Schreder, study lead author, said:

The study doesn’t give us the final answer on exposure, but it does offer “a good indication of the range” that people are exposed to.

For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Brian Bienkowski.

High Exposure to Organophosphate Flame Retardants in Infants: Associations with Baby Products

Study finds flame retardant exposure higher in infants than adults

image of Flame-Retardants-in-Infants chart
A growing list of major retail stores have pledged to stop selling furniture containing flame retardants, which research suggests could cause developmental problems. Despite the trend, however, it could take years before widespread exposure declines. And now, a study in ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology has revealed more bad news: Infants could potentially be affected the most. The report also looks at potential exposure routes.

2015 Study Abstract

Infant products containing polyurethane foam are commonly treated with organophosphate flame retardants (PFRs), including tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl)phosphate (TDCIPP) and triphenyl phosphate (TPHP). Infants may have greater exposure due to greater contact with these products, yet little is known about levels of exposure or the factors contributing to higher exposure.

We recruited children age 2–18 months from North Carolina to investigate PFR exposure (n = 43; recruited 2014–2015). Parents provided information on potential sources and modifiers of exposure, and reported whether they owned common infant products.

We measured five PFR metabolites in urine samples collected from children. TDCIPP and TPHP metabolites (bis(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (BDCIPP) and diphenyl phosphate (DPHP)) were most commonly detected (>93% detect). Other metabolites were detected infrequently (<35% detect). Although we did not observe a clear age trend for infants, BDCIPP levels were substantially higher than those reported for adults (geometric mean = 7.3 ng/mL). The number of infant products owned was strongly associated with BDCIPP; children with >16 products had BDCIPP levels that were 6.8 times those with (<13). (p = 0.02). Infants attending daycare centers also had higher BDCIPP levels (3.7 times those of others; p = 0.07), suggesting time spent in this microenvironment contributes to higher exposure. In contrast, DPHP levels were not related to products owned, time in different microenvironments, or behavior.

Source and more information
  • Study finds flame retardant exposure higher in infants than adults, American Chemical Society, December 02, 2015.
  • High Exposure to Organophosphate Flame Retardants in Infants: Associations with Baby Products, American Chemical Society, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b03577, November 9, 2015.