PFASs: What can we learn from the European Human Biomonitoring Initiative HBM4EU

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  • Maria Uhl
  • Greet Schoeters
  • Eva Govarts
  • Wieneke Bil
  • Tony Fletcher
  • Line Småstuen Haug
  • Ron Hoogenboom
  • Claudia Gundacker
  • Trier, Xenia
  • Mariana F. Fernandez
  • Argelia Castaño Calvo
  • Marta Esteban López
  • Dries Coertjens
  • Tiina Santonen
  • Ľubica Palkovičová Murínová
  • Denisa Richterová
  • Katleen De Brouwere
  • Ingrid Hauzenberger
  • Marike Kolossa-Gehring
  • Þórhallur Ingi Halldórsson

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) were one of the priority substance groups selected which have been investigated under the ambitious European Joint programme HBM4EU (2017–2022). In order to answer policy relevant questions concerning exposure and health effects of PFASs in Europe several activities were developed under HBM4EU namely i) synthesis of HBM data generated in Europe prior to HBM4EU by developing new platforms, ii) development of a Quality Assurance/Quality Control Program covering 12 biomarkers of PFASs, iii) aligned and harmonized human biomonitoring studies of PFASs. In addition, some cohort studies (on mother-child exposure, occupational exposure to hexavalent chromium) were initiated, and literature researches on risk assessment of mixtures of PFAS, health effects and effect biomarkers were performed. The HBM4EU Aligned Studies have generated internal exposure reference levels for 12 PFASs in 1957 European teenagers aged 12–18 years. The results showed that serum levels of 14.3% of the teenagers exceeded 6.9 μg/L PFASs, which corresponds to the EFSA guideline value for a tolerable weekly intake (TWI) of 4.4 ng/kg for some of the investigated PFASs (PFOA, PFOS, PFNA and PFHxS). In Northern and Western Europe, 24% of teenagers exceeded this level. The most relevant sources of exposure identified were drinking water and some foods (fish, eggs, offal and locally produced foods). HBM4EU occupational studies also revealed very high levels of PFASs exposure in workers (P95: 192 μg/L in chrome plating facilities), highlighting the importance of monitoring PFASs exposure in specific workplaces. In addition, environmental contaminated hotspots causing high exposure to the population were identified. In conclusion, the frequent and high PFASs exposure evidenced by HBM4EU strongly suggests the need to take all possible measures to prevent further contamination of the European population, in addition to adopting remediation measures in hotspot areas, to protect human health and the environment. HBM4EU findings also support the restriction of the whole group of PFASs. Further, research and definition for additional toxicological dose-effect relationship values for more PFASs compounds is needed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114168
JournalInternational Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The HBM4EU project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No 733032. It further has been cofunded by the participating member states.

Funding Information:
Within a workshop in the frame of HBM4EU the development and use of HBM based indicators have been discussed in order to learn from and ensure interoperability with other European indicators (Buekers et al., 2018). Further, HBM based indicators have been developed within HBM4EU to track progress, they present HBM data in an easy understandable and comparable way and they can be included e.g. in state-of-the-environment reporting at EU- and national level. Continued investment in monitoring, ideally with a time interval of two to three years between data points, would be needed for this purpose. Thus, to support the use of HBM4EU results for policy making related to PFASs, two workshops were organized (April 2021 and March 2022). Invitees for the workshops were HBM4EU researchers, representatives of national HBM studies and national authorities, representatives from various DGs of the European Commission and EU agencies. The workshops were organized in a confidential setting, to make it possible to discuss results that were not yet publicly available. Workshop participants concluded that HBM research plays an important role in raising awareness and putting the subject on the political agenda. In that regard, HBM data have played an important role in the development of the European Commission's PFASs strategy. Furthermore, results of HBM4EU, e.g. on health effects, mode of action and mixture risk assessment will support the forthcoming REACH restriction proposal to cover a wide range of PFASs uses (HBM4EU, 2021). Given the fact that many new policy actions on PFASs are on the table, HBM4EU results can become an important baseline to follow up effectiveness of policy measures.The HBM4EU project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No 733032. It further has been cofunded by the participating member states. We would like to thank all HBM4EU partners involved in the work on PFASs, as well as experts contributing from outside of HBM4EU and specifically all the study participants. We also want to acknowledge Ivo Offenthaler from the Environment Agency Austria for the artwork (graphical abstract).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023

    Research areas

  • Emerging health risks, European teenagers, Exposure, HBM4EU, Human biomonitoring, Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs)

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