International journal of hygiene and environmental health vol:216 issue:5 pages:599-605
Human biomarker studies in environmental health are essential tools to study the relationship between health and environment. They should ultimately contribute to a better understanding of environmentally induced adverse health effects and to appropriate preventive actions. To ensure the protection of the rights and dignity of study participants a complex legal and ethical framework is applied, consisting of several international directives, conventions, and guidelines, whether or not translated in domestic laws. Main characteristics of ethics and data protection in studies using biomarkers in the field of environmental health are summarized and current discussions on related questions and bottlenecks highlighted. In the current regulatory context, dominated by the protection of the individual study participant, difficulties are reported due to the different interpretation and implementation of the regulations of concern within and across borders. Advancement of consistency and compatibility is recommended and efforts are ongoing. An increasing demand for secondary use of data and samples poses additional challenges in finding a right balance between the individual rights of the study participants on the one hand and the common interest of, and potential benefit for the public or community at large on the other. Ethics committees could play a key role in assessing problems originating from the sometimes competing needs at individual and societal level. Building trust in science amongst (potential) study participants and within the community allows the inclusion of arguments from the societal perspective. This requires increased attention for respectful communication efforts. Striving for public participation in decision making processes may promote policy relevant research and the related translation of study results into action.