Communication was a key task throughout the project, from the recruitment phase until the publication of the results. National team coordinators were trained during 2 workshops: December 2011 in Brussels and March 2012 in Copenhagen.
Communication at recruitment
Children aged 6-11 years and their mothers received an information leaflet and a letter inviting them to participate in the pilot study, along with a reply card and consent form. Volunteers who met the inclusion criteria then received a confirmation letter, along with urine containers and an instruction leaflet for urine sampling. The start of the project and of the recruitment period was covered by several newspapers in participating countries and at European level. Project websites, both at European and at national level, provided key information and documents throughout the project.
Communication of individual results
Communication of individual results to study participants took place as early as possible, unless the participant chose not to be informed. Each participating mother received a letter with her and her child’s results, explaining that:
- For some substances, this study gives only a snapshot of their exposure. Elevated levels of chemicals that are excreted quickly can occur due to temporary exposure and give no indication of a person’s overall exposure.
- Heavy metals like mercury accumulate in the body and the levels measured give an indication of the accumulated lifetime exposure.
- If available, current health-based guidance values explained the potential health significance of measured levels. For some chemicals measured, it was only possible to indicate what the levels were and how they compared with the aggregated results, but not what the health implications might be.
Contacts details of a national team member were given for further clarification if needed. If the values measured indicated possible health risks, the mother was contacted to explain what could be done to reduce exposure. In some countries, local medical practitioners, mayors, school directors were informed about the aggregated results.
Communication of aggregated results
Dissemination to the general public: The results and conclusions of COPHES and DEMOCOPHES were presented at the Cyprus Presidency Conference, ‘Human Biomonitoring: Linking Environment to Health and Supporting Policy’, held in Larnaca on 23 and 24 October 2012. A press release on this Conference can be found on the Cyprus Presidency website. As a result, several European journals showed interest and a press article was published.
Between July 2012 and February 2013, each country organised a national symposium to report on the aggregated results to the general public and to their policy-makers.
Dissemination to the policy-makers: Topics of particular interest include using HBM results for policies, feasibility of an EU-harmonised programme, and the next steps required in line with both the European Environment and Health Action Plan 2004-2010 and the WHO Parma Conference on Environment and Health.
Dissemination to the scientific community: The results of COPHES and DEMOCOPHES were presented at the 22nd Annual Meeting of the International Society of Exposure Science in Seattle. DEMOCOPHES results on mercury were used for an economic calculation of the cost of the actual exposure of Europeans to this widespread heavy metal. Results will also be published in peer-review journals and communicated at other scientific meetings.
Achievements towards communication
- Communication materials on the project are available for further uses.
- The project received a lot of press attention depending on the countries.
- Scientific publications are in preparation.