Pilot study testing a European human biomonitoring framework for biomarkers of chemical exposure in children and their mothers: experiences in the UK

Karen Exley*, Dominique Aerts, Pierre Biot, Ludwine Casteleyn, Marike Kolossa-Gehring, Gerda Schwedler, Argelia Castaño, Jürgen Angerer, Holger M. Koch, Marta Esteban, Birgit K. Schindler, Greet Schoeters, Elly Den Hond, Milena Horvat, Louis Bloemen, Lisbeth E. Knudsen, Reinhard Joas, Anke Joas, Ovnair Sepai

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Exposure to a number of environmental chemicals in UK mothers and children has been assessed as part of the European biomonitoring pilot study, Demonstration of a Study to Coordinate and Perform Human Biomonitoring on a European Scale (DEMOCOPHES). For the European-funded project, 17 countries tested the biomonitoring guidelines and protocols developed by COPHES. The results from the pilot study in the UK are presented; 21 school children aged 6–11 years old and their mothers provided hair samples to measure mercury and urine samples, to measure cadmium, cotinine and several phthalate metabolites: mono(2-ethyl-5-hydroxyhexyl)phthalate (5OH-MEHP), mono(2-ethyl-5-oxo-hexyl)phthalate (5oxo-MEHP) and mono(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (MEHP), mono-ethyl phthalate (MEP), mono-iso-butyl phthalate (MiBP), mono-benzyl phthalate (MBzP) and mono-n-butyl phthalate (MnBP). Questionnaire data was collected on environment, health and lifestyle. Mercury in hair was higher in children who reported frequent consumption of fish (geometric mean 0.35 μg/g) compared to those that ate fish less frequently (0.13 μg/g, p = 0.002). Cadmium accumulates with age as demonstrated by higher levels of urinary cadmium in the mothers (geometric mean 0.24 μg/L) than in the children(0.14 μg/L). None of the mothers reported being regular smokers, and this was evident with extremely low levels of cotinine measured (maximum value 3.6 μg/L in mothers, 2.4 μg/L in children). Very low levels of the phthalate metabolites were also measured in both mothers and children (geometric means in mothers: 5OH-MEHP 8.6 μg/L, 5oxo-MEHP 5.1 μg/L, MEHP 1.2 μg/L, MEP 26.8 μg/L, MiBP 17.0 μg/L, MBzP 1.6 μg/L and MnBP 13.5 μg/L; and in children: 5OH-MEHP 18.4 μg/L, 5oxo-MEHP 11.4 μg/L, MEHP 1.4 μg/L, MEP 14.3 μg/L, MiBP 25.8 μg/L, MBzP 3.5 μg/L and MnBP 22.6 μg/L). All measured biomarker levels were similar to or below population-based reference values published by the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and Germany’s GerES surveys. No results were above available health guidance values and were of no concern with regards to health. The framework and techniques learnt here will assist with future work on biomonitoring in the UK.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15821-15834
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Science and Pollution Research
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The UK DEMOCOPHES pilot study was co-funded by the European Commission DG Environment under the LIFE+ Programme (LIFE09/ENV/BE000410) and Public Health England (formerly the Health Protection Agency). DEMOCOPHES is coordinated by the Federal Public Service Health Food Chain Safety and Environment, Belgium. COPHES is coordinated by BiPRO GmbH, Germany, with the University of Leuven, Belgium, and is funded by the European Commission DG Research in the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013 – No.244237).

Funding Information:
In 2003, the EU identified the importance of HBM but recognised that despite a number of European countries actively involved in HBM, there was a lack of comparable data and so it recommended that protocols be harmonised (Commission of the European Communities ). To enable the collection of comparable HBM data throughout Europe, a framework and protocols were developed by the ‘Consortium to Perform Human Biomonitoring on a European Scale’ (COPHES). COPHES was formed in 2009 with European scientists and stakeholders from 27 European countries and funded by the European Union (EU). In 2010, ‘Demonstration of a Study to Coordinate and Perform Human Biomonitoring on a European Scale’ (DEMOCOPHES) involving 21 European countries started work on a pilot study, funded by the EU and participating countries, to test in 17 countries the harmonised approach and protocols developed by COPHES (Joas et al. ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Her Majesty the Queen in Right of United Kingdom.


  • Biomonitoring
  • Cadmium
  • Cotinine
  • Environmental exposure
  • Mercury
  • Phthalates


Dive into the research topics of 'Pilot study testing a European human biomonitoring framework for biomarkers of chemical exposure in children and their mothers: experiences in the UK'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this