Human biomonitoring harmonisation in Europe

Between 2010 and 2012, Switzerland took part in DEMOCOPHES, the first human biomonitoring study coordinated in Europe. Ever since, several countries formed a new consortium to harmonise human biomonitoring on a European level. 


DEMOCOPHES is the first human biomonitoring (HBM) study coordinated on a European scale. The study was carried out from 2010 to 2012 with the aim of obtaining internationally comparable data on exposure to pollutants in the population. Switzerland, represented by the FOPH, participated in the study.

The objective of DEMOCOPHES was to determine whether a Europe-wide coordinated HBM project could be implemented. The results of the DEMOCOPHES study provided for the first time comparable data on the state of exposure of the population (“background exposure”) to the selected chemicals. By participating in DEMOCOPHES, Switzerland was able to constitute the bases for implementing future HBM projects that permit national and European data comparisons. Moreover, Switzerland was able to exchange experience within an international network in the field of HBM.

DEMOCOPHES was carried out in 17 European countries following the same guidelines. A total of 4000 test persons were recruited across Europe. In each participating country, concentrations of cadmium, cotinine and various phthalates (and their metabolites) in urine, and of mercury in hair, were measured for 120 mothers (≤ 45 years old) and their children (6-11 years old).

In Switzerland the data collection was carried out in the city of Bern and 7 rural communities of Oberaargau.
120 mothers with their children were visited at home. An early morning urine sample was collected from both subjects (for the measurement of cadmium, cotinine and phthalate metabolites) and a small lock of hair was cut off (for the measurement of mercury in the hair sample). The mother was then interviewed in order to record possible sources of pollutants. The questions were related to the living environment, the apartment itself, the diet as well as to exposure-related behaviour (e.g. smoking, use of body care products etc.).

The samples investigated in Switzerland did not display any relevant exposure to the pollutants cadmium, mercury and phthalate metabolites. However, the sample is not representative for Switzerland. According to current scientific assessment, no health risks exists for these chemicals. Cotinine (a decomposition product of nicotine found in tobacco) was detected in all mothers who had stated in the interview that they were smokers.

European Consortium

In order to develop a harmonised approach to biomonitoring in Europe, the European Commission provided funding for the two projects COPHES and DEMOCOPHES.

COPHES: COnsortium to Perform Human Biomonitoring on a European Scale.
This consortium, which consisted of 35 partners from 27 European countries, developed sustainable frameworks for human biomonitoring across Europe (2009-2012) and supported the DEMOCOPHES study.

In DEMOCOPHES, the processes and guidelines elaborated by COPHES were implemented and tested in 17 countries across Europe (2010-2012).

End of 2015, the European Commission launched a new initiative to coordinate human biomonitoring on a European level. Several countries formed a consortium, actually working on a concept for the harmonisation of HBM in Europe.

Last modification 08.08.2018

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