The impact of environmental pollution is generally monitored by measurements of pollutants in air, water, soil and food.
To collect data on environmental exposure and related health effects, and to obtain better information for public policy decision, the Flemish government initiated a five-year (2002-2006) systematic human biomonitoring programme covering around one-fifth of both its territory and population.
Human Biomonitoring (HBM) can be defined as "monitoring activities in human beings, using biomarkers, that focus on environmental exposures, diseases and/or disorders and genetic susceptibility, and their potential relationships".
The first generation 'Flemish Centre of Expertise on Environment and Health' implemented the Flemish human biomonitoring programme, which measures concentrations of well characterized pollutants inside the human body by using biomarkers.
The aim was to examine whether living in different areas in Flanders results in differences in exposure and early biological effects of pollutants in the human body.
The programme collects a variety of biomarkers of exposure (including e.g. DDE, heavy metals, dioxins, exposure to PAHs and benzene) and effect (including e.g. DNA damage, asthma and allergy, ...) in eight areas and for three age groups (newborn babies, adolescents, elderly).
The selected areas are characterized by different environmental loads and include two urban areas (Antwerp and Ghent), a fruit growing area, a rural area and four industrial areas (the harbours of Antwerp and Ghent, non ferrous melter, chemical industry and household waste incinerators).
In the 8 areas 1196 mothers and their newborn babies, 1679 adolescents (14-15 years) and 1583 adults (50-65 years) were recruited.
The study showed differences in biomarker values of exposure and effect for the different areas and found measurable biological effects at exposure levels well below current standards.
All reports and newsletters are available on the website of the Flemish Centre of Expertise on Environment and Health (www.milieu-en-gezondheid.be).