An initiative of the Flemish Centre of Expertise on Environment and Health (Vlaams Steunpunt Milieu en Gezondheid) was used in 2017 as the blueprint for the European HBM4EU project, VITO co-coordinates this project. 

This project, in which VITO is a co-coordinator, forms part of the Horizon 2020 programme for research and innovation in the EU, and 26 countries are involved. Researchers want to use humane biomonitoring (HBM), where measurements are taken from urine and blood samples, to map out people’s exposure to chemicals and to advise policymakers as to what measures could be taken in order limit the risk. This project supports the European Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) and has a strong policy-orientation, an area in which VITO has plenty of experience thanks to its role in the Flemish Centre of Expertise on Environment and Health.

Research is being carried out across the 26 countries, while policy-makers hold discussions with industry and scientists. The countries have also organised their own focus groups, making this project the basis for an approach that will extend beyond the duration of the project itself. VITO organised the infrastructure for HBM4EU to enable biomonitoring data to be gathered across Europe in a uniform way. Existing studies are also being harmonised alongside new studies to enable results to be compared between countries.

VITO is also responsible for data processing. Data is being gathered from 3,000 children aged between 6 and 12 years, 3,000 teenagers aged between 12 and 19 years, and 3,000 adults between the ages of 20 and 39. Researchers mainly look for the presence of plastic components and more recently developed substances (such as the plasticiser DINCH and bisphenols), but also, where requested by policy-makers, for evidence of occupational exposure. This research covers all regions and spans all socio-economic classes. It not only seeks to take measurements; it is intended to go a step further and determine the source of particular results in order to make policy recommendations on this basis.

All attention across the 26 participating countries in 2018 was focused on taking samples. Measurements are still ongoing in some countries in 2019, and these measurements will need to have been completed by the end of the year to enable VITO to process them in 2020. The project will end in 2021 and the results will need to be known and made available for use in policy.