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Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2015 Oct;22(20):15821-34. doi: 10.1007/s11356-015-4772-4. Epub 2015 Jun 4.

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

Author information

Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, Public Health England, Chilton, Oxfordshire, OX11 0RQ, UK.
Federal Public Service Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment, Brussels, Belgium.
University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.
Federal Environment Agency (UBA), Berlin, Germany.
Instituto de Salud Carlos III (ISCIII), Madrid, Spain.
Institute for Prevention and Occupational Medicine of the German Social Accident Insurance, Institute of the Ruhr-Universitat Bochum (IPA), Bochum, Germany.
Environmental Risk and Health Unit, Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO), Mol, Belgium.
Jožef Stefan Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Environmental Health Science International, Hulst, Netherlands.
University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.
BiPRO GmbH, Munich, Germany.
Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, Public Health England, Chilton, Oxfordshire, OX11 0RQ, UK.


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.


Biomonitoring; Cadmium; Cotinine; DEMOCOPHES; Environmental exposure; Mercury; Phthalates

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