These comparable data are a step towards European reference values. Now that the feasibility of an EU-harmonised approach has been demonstrated, policy-makers can start to envisage a European survey programme using the lessons learned. To ensure a sustainable way forward, Europe needs a structure that will enable suitable coordination and decision-taking.
Teams in Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom studied exposure to mercury, cadmium, tobacco smoke and some phthalates and possible relations to lifestyle, using biomarkers and questionnaire data. Bisphenol A was added as an additional substance for a group of 6 countries.
The national teams translated the European common protocol, which describes in detail how to implement the study. Without compromising the comparability of the results, small adaptations were allowed to suit cultural differences and sometimes specific national needs. Before starting the study, ethics authorities in each country approved the necessary documents.
Participants in this study were children aged 6-11 years and their mothers aged 45 years and under. Fieldworkers in the participating countries collected hair and urine samples from a total of 3688 volunteers, half from urban areas and half from rural areas. Mothers provided details on their living environment, nutrition, smoking behaviour, and other information that could help to explain the levels of the biomarkers measured in hair and urine.
The laboratories analysing the samples were selected through a strict quality assurance process, comprising Interlaboratory Comparison Investigations (ICI) and External Quality Assessment Schemes (EQUAS).
Statistical analysis and interpretation of the results was performed in each country as well as at EU level after having transferred the cleaned national databases to a European central database.
The countries’ teams translated and adapted centrally provided communication material. This material comprised templates for invitation letters, information leaflets, consent forms, questionnaires, etc.
All study volunteers received their personal results unless they chose to do otherwise. The national webpages give information on national results communicated through symposia, press releases, etc. During the DEMOCOPHES-COPHES Cyprus Presidency Conference, as well as in scientific and policy-makers’ meetings, partners of both projects presented the European aggregated results and conclusions.
DEMOCOPHES (DEMOnstration of a study to COordinate and Perform Human biomonitoring on a European Scale) ran from September 2010 to November 2012, demonstrating the feasibility of a harmonised approach to human biomonitoring surveys (HBM) to obtain comparable results in Europe.