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German Organisations Develop New Methods to Enable Detection of Chemical Substances in the Human Organism

Hong Kong and Chinese mainland producers and sellers of everyday consumer goods containing chemicals may like to know that, since 2010, a cooperation between the German Federal Environment Agency (the UBA), the German Federal Ministry of Environment (the BMUB) and the German Chemical Industry Association (the VCI) has been working on the development of methods to detect common chemicals, such as plasticisers and flame retardants, in the human organism. The aim of the cooperation between these three organisations is to improve knowledge about chemical substances that are absorbed by the human body.

Such discoveries could lead to restrictive measures against harmful substances and the consumer products that contain them.

Chemical substances can enter the body via the lungs, the gastrointestinal tract and the skin. Ambient biomonitoring, which measures the concentration of chemical substances in water, soil, air and consumer products, determines the source and the exposure pathway of a certain chemical substance. However, ambient biomonitoring does not provide data on the actual burden of the substances on the human body. This type of information can be attained by so-called human biomonitoring.

Human biomonitoring is the testing of bodily fluids, such as urine and blood, for chemical substances. It is mainly used in occupational and environmental medicine. The significance of human biomonitoring lies in its capability to detect the actual absorption by the human organism of substances; the results of human biomonitoring therefore enable the assessment of the sufficiency of laws and regulations on chemicals and help identify shortfalls in the protection of the general populace from harmful substances.

The research cooperation between UBA, BMUB and VCI selects substances for which human biomonitoring methods may be developed on the basis of the relevance of the chemical substances to human health, as well as on the basis of whether there is an increased absorption of the substance by the population, and whether there are presently no available methods of detection. Every year, up to five chemicals are selected. In 2016, the chemicals selected were the fuel additive named a,a’-(1-methylethylene-diimino)di-o-cresol, the UV filter Uvinul A Plus, the flame retardant TCDP, the plasticiser dibutyl adipate (DBA) (used in PVC and in cosmetics) and avobenzone (used in many cosmetic products).

Since the beginning of the project in 2010, a total of 34 substances have been selected by the cooperation. The development for detection methods for the following 14 substances have been completed: the plasticisers DINCH, DPHP and DEHTP, MDI (used, for example, in the manufacture of polyurethane products, such as insulation foams, adhesives and coatings), HBCDD (a brominated flame retardant), 4-Nonylphenol (used, for example, as surfactants in detergent formulations), 4-tert-Octylphenol (used, for example, in detergents, industrial cleaners and emulsifiers), the solvents NMP and NEP, 2-MBT (used in the production of rubber, plastics and lacquers), 4-MBC (used in sunscreens and other cosmetic products), the preservative BHT, the fragrance Lysmeral and CIT/MIT (which are preservatives used in cosmetic products).

The cooperation did not succeed in developing detection methods for the cyclical siloxanes D4, D5 and D6. For another 17 substances, the development of detection methods is currently in progress. The German Research Foundation validates the newly developed detection methods which are published in scientific journals and are therefore available worldwide.

The Human Biomonitoring Commission (HBM), which is an independent expert body within the UBA, derives human biomonitoring values (HBM values) for the chemical substances selected by the research cooperation. HBM values allow for the toxicological and health-risk evaluation of exposures.

The newly developed methods to detect chemicals in the human body will be used by UBA and BMUB in two big monitoring studies of the German government that aim to collect data on the exposure of the general population to chemicals substances. First results of those studies are expected in 2018.

UBA, BMUB and VCI also stated that the results of their research can support the exposure assessment in regulatory processes, such as in the framework of the (infamously complex) REACH Regulation.

Finally, since the project has received attention internationally, UBA, BMUB and VCI consider that it may eventually be transferred to the European level, where more universally applicable restrictions can be imposed.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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