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15 October 2020
Asthma , COPD, Allergy
INFORM, - Research Projects, PREVENT, - Chemicals

EFA participated and gave a short presentation to the Annual Stakeholder Forum of the EU Human Biomonitoring project on 30 September. The project, called HBM4EU for short, explores human exposure to harmful chemical substances, with the aim to generate scientific evidence for health policy.

The HBM4EU project brings together 30 countries, the European Commission, the European Environment Agency as well as stakeholders from civil society. It is co-funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme.

Adding the patients’ voice to environmental policymaking

Every day, each of us are exposed to chemical agents which can have an adverse impact on our health. They are in the clothes we wear, the products we use, the air we breathe when at home, outdoors, or in the workplace. Vulnerable social groups, such as allergy and chronic respiratory patients and children, bear a disproportionate amount of this burden.

As the only patient organisation stakeholder of the project, EFA Policy Advisor Panagiotis Chaslaridis provided an outline of EFA’s activities across a broad range of issues surrounding the human exposure to dangerous chemicals.

Highlights from the HBM4EU Project

The event was opened with Tony Musu, from the European Trade Union Institute. He spoke about one of the key expectations from the project: to ensure stakeholder input in generating knowledge, to serve  better implementation of the EU legislation. He voiced his concerns over the limited influence that stakeholders can have under the current arrangements that foresees only one meeting per year.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) presented the HBM4EU Prioritisation Strategy. This consists of several work streams to identify priorities for new knowledge, tools and methods on chemical risk assessment. These include the European Partnership for Innovative Health, a draft proposal for the next Innovative Medicines Initiative, currently under discussion; as well as the Partnership for the Assessment of the Risks of Chemicals (PARC). In addition, the project has launched a consultation on citizen factsheets to collect input on nine chemical substances.

PARC was one of the key topic discussed by Adrienne Pittman from the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES). PARC aims to strengthen the EU's research and innovation capacity to protect human health and the environment.

Sofie Norager from the Directorate-General Research and Innovation emphasised the expectations of the European Commission for the project, which will run until the end of 2021. Policymaking can greatly benefit from solid scientific evidence on our exposure to chemical substances.

EFA was among the stakeholders to present their current activities on issues related to chemical exposure. Other presenters included PlasticsEurope and the European Center for Environmental Medicine.

Where air pollution impacts policy

Air pollution was singled out as a cross-cutting topic that touches on several ongoing policies: the much-awaited Beating Cancer Plan, which highlights a shared risk factor between cancer, asthma, allergy and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); the work on a ‘Renovations Wave’, where healthy indoor environments should be considered as key element; and even the EU Farm-to-Fork Strategy, given the effects agricultural emissions can have on human respiratory health. Further major EU initiatives are anticipated to support the human biomonitoring, in light of the EU’s explicit ambition for Zero Air Pollution by 2050.

Indoor Air Quality is another key priority, affected by multiple factors such as construction materials (also under discussion as we speak), and tobacco smoking. EFA has long advocated for the integration of indoor aspects in air pollution discourse to develop a comprehensive EU air quality framework.

Occupational exposure is another key factor in respiratory health. The inhalation of synthetic chemicals, mineral/organic dusts, and irritant gases or vapours at work contribute significantly to the development and severity of chronic airways diseases. Regretfully, this is a largely under-researched area until today.

Aside from HBM4EU, EFA is also contributing to the Advisory Board of the European Human Exposome Network. This is a group of 9 projects looking into the life-long consequences of human exposures to internal and external environmental risk factors.