Early detection of occupational and environmental diseases

In Zusammenarbeit mit dem Umweltbundesamt entwickelt die Klinik für Dermatologie und Allergologie der Uniklinik RWTH Aachen, das Institut für Arbeitsmedizin und Sozialmedizin, das Institut für Hygiene und Umweltmedizin und das geographische Institut für Klimatologie der RWTH Aachen ein Frühwarnsystem für Allergene im Klimawandel für Deutschland.

Weitere Informationen finden Sie auf den Seiten der Klinik für Dermatologie und Allergologie.

Principal investigator: Michael Felten

Since March 2002 the Institute of Occupational and Social Medicine in cooperation with the Institution for Statutory Accident Insurance and Prevention in the Electrical, Textile and Precision Engineering Industry (BGETF) and the Central Registration Agency for Employees Exposed to Asbestos Dust (GVS) has organised a health surveillance programme among formerly asbestos exposed employees of the energy industry. In this risk differentiating programme, we investigate a cohort of 8632 participants with the aim of early detection of both benign and malignant asbestos related diseases of the lung and the pleura.

In the framework of the CARE-project (Comprehensive Asbestos Research Endeavour), which we have started in January 2008, we ensure the continued medical and psychological care of the participants. In addition, we have formulated four sub-projects aiming at more precise risk profiles and improved instruments for the early detection of asbestos related diseases.

In the sub-project epidemiology we collect data from communal registration offices, public health offices and the BGETF to determine the cancer incidence and mortality for the cohort in comparison with that of a matched control-group. That way, we can assess the additional risk of disease caused by asbestos exposure and are able to investigate the impact of surveillance measures on survival time.

In the sub-project job exposure matrix we develop job specific exposure profiles based on archived ambient monitoring data, information on technical standards at former work places and formerly used work plans with information on specific occupations in different parts of the plants.

The psychological subproject evaluates the early detection programme in regard to participants’ quality of life. Furthermore, we want to assess participants’ potential fears related to the knowledge and involved risk of past asbestos exposure. Additionally, we will analyze participants’ respective coping behaviour regarding its effectiveness. Results of the above research will form the basis for future intervention strategies (e.g. information transfer, psychological consultation).

At present, asbestos related malignant diseases are usually detected with chest X-ray or computed tomography. However, when changes on X-ray are visible the disease has often progressed so far that effective therapy is difficult. In the sub-project new biomarkers we are testing participants’ blood for various biomarkers with the aim to assess their value for routine use in cancer surveillance.

Principal investigator:Peter Brand

In this large study, which is carried out in cooperation with the Institution for statutory accident insurance and prevention in the woodworking and metalworking industry (BGHM), welding processes and materials are to be identified, which are expected to impair the health of workers. Therefore, different welding techniques (from laser welding to MIG brazing) but also different materials are investigated in respect to their effects on the lungs and the cardiovascular system. The exposure is carried out under controlled conditions which are similar to realistic workplace conditions. Possibly the results of this study can help to validate current workplace threshold limits for welding fumes in Germany.

Principal investigator: Alexander Werthan

The study aims to evaluate the effect of the size-selective relevance of particulate matter by the known particle size fractions of PM10 to PM2.5 (coarse particulate matter), PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) and PM0.1 (ultrafine dust) on human health. Furthermore, the study will emphasize the relevance of different particle compositions. Particularly, the exposure in brown coal mining is being assessed in comparison to the urban pollution situation. The state of scientific research of particulate matter is considered through a systematic literature review as well as anonymized data from occupational medical examinations with pulmonary function tests of employees in the Rhenish coal mining area. Lung function results are compared longitudinally with reference values and workplace exposure and with references of the data from the systematic review.

Principal investigator: E. Ochsmann

It is known that the effect of whole-body-vibration at the workplace can lead to back pain. Not known yet is to what extent the simultaneous unfavourable posture may increase acute symptoms or has a predictive value for functional limitations in the lumbar region.

In the present study vibration measurements and objective measurements of body posture are carried out simultaneously with the CUELA measurement system in 240 volunteer workers, who have already a long lasting exposure to whole-body vibration present at their workplace. Furthermore, the employee will be physically examined by the DGUV principle G46 (examination of the musculoskeletal system), and finally, selected confounders are assessed by questionnaire (e.g., leisure behaviour, psychosocial stressors at the workplace).

In addition, participants will be measured with the Medimouse®. The measurements, studies and questionnaires will be carried out anonymously in the participating companies. As a practical implication, companies are to be supported in conducting their risk assessment. In addition individual and workplace prevention possibilities are to be derived according to the findings from exposed employees. It is intended to incorporate the results of measurements in exposure cadastre as well as in national and international standards.

As part of the research project of the PCB Working Group, several subprojects (SP) are carried out studying the following topics:

SP 1: PCB exposure assessment, dioxin-like PCBs and metabolites

Dr. rer. nat. Thomas Schettgen, Institute for Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen

Although PCBs are generally considered to be very stable and to be metabolized only to a small extent by the body, especially these metabolites are in the focus of toxicological concern in the last years. In general, there are only very few papers on PCB metabolites in the blood of people in the general population (Weiss et al 2006;Park et al 2007).

SP 2: exposure assessment dioxins/furans (finished)

Prof. Dr. med. M. Wilhelm, Department of Hygiene, Social and Environmental Medicine, Ruhr-University Bochum

SP 3: medical history, occupational history, blood collection

PD Dr. med. Monika Gube, Institute for Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen

Systematic recording of complaints, medical history and a full qualified occupational history are the essential basis for the evaluation and causal association of possible health disorders. Additionally blood samples for the extensive laboratory testing must be made. Due to analytic reasons the blood samples must be prepared directly. Standardized questionnaires are developed within this SP.

SP 4: Endocrinology

Prof. Dr. med. Joseph Neulen, Univ. Department of Gynecological Endocrinology and Reproductive Medicine, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen

Dr. med. Andrea Kaifie, M.Sc., Institute for Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen

Polyhalogenated biphenyls (PB) as endocrine active substances are potentially hazardous. They interrupt natural endocrine signaling pathways by blocking the corresponding hormone receptors competitively or accelerate it by an induction of liver enzymes hormone metabolism (1). Due to their chemical structure biphenyls have some special affinity for estrogen receptors and thus induce estrogen typical effects (2).
Therefore, it makes sense to observe endocrine parameters of pituitary, thyroid, adrenal cortex and gonads acutely in the course in the contaminated population. Additionally fertility parameters are to be measured.

SP 5: Klinisches Labor

Dr. med. Andrea Kaifie, M.Sc., Institute for Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen

To detect all potential effects on the organs, a variety of laboratory parameters are systematically recorded.

SP 6: Physical examination, skin status

Dr. med. Marike M. Leijs, PhD, Prof. Dr. med. Jens Malte Baron, Leading senior physician and head of the research group "Experimental Dermatology and Allergology", Department of Dermatology, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen, Dr. med. Andrea Kaifie, M.Sc., Institute for Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen

By a medical physical examination a clinical whole-body status  should be carried out and secondly particular, possible neurological stress responses (as measured vibration sense) as well as changes in the skin should be detected.

SP 7: Immune Status

Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Lothar Rink, Institute of Immunology, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen 

The knowledge of immunological changes caused by PCBs are very small and the few data usually come from animal models. However, the possible carcinogenic or and cancer-extracting  effects suggest that the immune system is adversely affected by PCB, so that the natural tumor monitoring of the immune system no longer functions adequately.

In the first instance contaminated subjects will be examined in a screening method. Because of the complex immunological methods, investigations are therefore limited to methods that work directly with whole blood. After the screening has been performed, the changes in the parameters can be correlated with the PCB contamination. Furthermore, patients who show deviations after another blood sample can be further characterized immunologically.

SP 8: Neurography

Prof. Dr. med. Jörg B. Schulz, Director Klinik für Neurologie, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen
PD Dr. med. Johannes Schiefer, Leading senior physician Klinik für Neurologie, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen

In the literature, peripheral neurotoxic effects by PCB`s are described both experimentally and in individual cases of occupationally exposed persons. The focus is on axonal polyneuropathy. In addition to a neurological clinical examination (s. SP 6) the motor and sensory nerve conduction velocity is therefore measured for each subject.
Therefore standardized settings after DGKNF are used.

SP 9: Neuropsychology

Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Walter Sturm, Clinical Neuropsychology, Department of Neurology
Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Klaus Willmes-von Hinckeldey, Dr. phil. Bruno Fimm, teaching and research neuropsychology at the Department of Neurology, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen

The knowledge of cognitive impairment after exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in children and adults is very fragmentary. Due to the available literature and the probable subcortical and cortical main damages by PCBs in the central nervous system, it is appropriate to put together a battery of neuropsychological individual tests and components of comprehensive test batteries especially for the study of PCB-exposed persons, which record the relevant cognitive and psychomotor functions time economically, reliabel and for a broad education and detected for a wide age range and broad education categories.

SP 10: Sonography

PD Dr. Jens Rodenwaldt, Director of the Department of Radiology, Knappschaftskrankenhaus Dortmund
Dr. med. Andrea Kaifie, M.Sc., Institute for Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen

Um mögliche strukturelle Veränderungen von Zielorganen erfassen zu können, erfolgt eine sonographische Untersuchung von Schilddrüse, Leber und Pankreas. Die Untersuchungen sind nebenwirkungsfrei und ohne Exposition gegenüber ionisierender Strahlung. Die Befunde werden mit einem standardisierten Erhebungsbogen erfasst und in Bezug zu den Belastungsprofilen gebracht. Die Kosten werden nach UV-GOÄ abgerechnet.

SP 11: Psychology

Prof. Dr. rer. soc. Jessica Lang, Petra Gaum, M.Sc., Occupational Health Psychology, Institute for Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen

The knowledge of a long-term exposure to a hazardous substance and the resulting potentially life-long increased risk of developing a disease may be - for those affected - a threatening information. Dealing with this information requires mental adjustment processes. Research findings of individuals with past exposure to hazardous substances illustrate the increased vulnerability of these individuals for mental health problems and a possible reduction in quality of life. Regular psychological screening of affected individuals can help to identify potential patients at risk. In addition, especially with regard to PCB as a hazardous substance, also physiological changes due to PCB exposure must be examined regarding the impact on mental health.

Gaum. P. M., Lang, J., Esser, A., Schettgen, T., Neulen, J., Kraus, T., & Gube, M. (2016). Exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and the thyroid gland – examining and discussing possible longitudinal health effects in humans. Environmental Research, 148, 112-121.

Putschögl, F., Gaum. P. M., Schettgen, T., Gube, M., Kraus, T., & Lang, J.* (2015). Effects of occupational exposure with polychlorinated biphenyls on urinary metabolites of neurotransmitters: a cross sectional and longitudinal perspective. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 218, 452-460.

Esser, A., Gaum, P.M., Schettgen, T., Kraus, T., Gube, M., & Lang, J.* (2015). Effect of occupational polychlorinated biphenyls exposure on quality adjusted life years over time at the HELPcB Surveillance Program. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health: Part A, 78, 132-150.

Gaum, P.M., Esser, A., Schettgen, T., Gube, M., Kraus, T. & Lang, J.* (2014). Prevalence and Incidence Rates of Mental Syndromes after Occupational Exposure to Polychlorinated Biphenyls. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 217, 765-774.

Esser, A., Gube, M., Schettgen, T., Kraus, T., & Lang, J.* (2014). QALY as Evaluation tool in a health surveillance program. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 217, 399-404.

SP 12: Epidemiologie

Christian Schikowsky, M.Sc., PD Dr. med. Monika Gube, Institute for Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen

It is known that some of the possible PCB effects, particularly carcinogenic effects may occur several years after the end of exposure. So it is essential to capture all ever exposed persons in the vicinity of the polluter company and to detect morbidity and mortality. This is on the one hand for detecting compensation claims as well as a knowledge gain in terms of latency damage.

SP 13: Carcinogenicity (finished)

Prof. Dr. med. M. Wilhelm, Department of Hygiene, Social and Environmental Medicine, Ruhr-University Bochum

SP 14: Expression of target genes in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC)

Prof. Dr. med. Jens Malte Baron, Leading senior physician and head of the research group "Experimental Dermatology and Allergology"
Dr. med. Marike M. Leijs, PhD, Department of Dermatology, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a group of 209 different congeners of chlorinated substances that can be classified into two groups due to their toxicological properties. One group has dioxin-like toxic characteristics, which is why they are also called dioxin-like PCBs (DL-PCBs). The other PCBs, are classified as non-dioxin-like PCBs (NDL-PCB) (EFSA Journal (2005) 284, 1-137).

DL-PCBs bind to the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) and induce cytochrome P450 (CYP) 1 metabolizing enzymes, which can be measured by the increase in EROD activity. The binding to the AHR is therefore seen essentially for the toxic activity of DL-PCBs (Safe, S. Critical Reviews in Toxicology 21: 51-88, 1990). NDL-PCBs do not bind to the AHR and show no induction of CYP1A. NDL-PCBs are inducers of the phenobarbital-type and can induce CYP2 and/or CYP3 enzymes independent to the Ah receptor (Sueyoshi et al, J Biol Chem 274:6043 - 6046,1999; Kliewer et al, Enocr Rev 23: 687-702 2002).

The induction of CYP and other target genes of PCBs in human tissues can be determined by three methods: mRNA measurements, Western blot analysis or measurement of enzymatic activities (Williamson et al, AB SCIEX Technical Note, 2008 Publication 115PB06-02.).

SP 15: Care of children

PD Dr. med. Monika Gube, Institute for Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen
Prof. Dr. med. Dominik Schneider, Children's Hospital Dortmund

Children are specifically sensitive to potential PCB effects. Therefore the children up to 14 years age are offered an appropriate screening program that is based on mother-child studies, which are carried out by the Working Group Wilhelm. All parents, with exposed children, are offered to participate in the child care program. The investigations were carried out in the Pediatric Clinic of the Municipal Hospital Dortmund (Director Prof. Schneider).

SP 16: Respiratory effects (finished)

Dr. med. Kelbel, chief physician of the Pulmonary Clinic, Knappschaftskrankenhaus Dortmund

SP 20: Apheresis (finished)

Prof. Dr. med. Reinhard Klingel, Apheresis Research Institute, Cologne
Dr. med. Christian Hoffmann, Internistische und Nephrologische Gemeinschaftspraxis Ambulante Dialyse und Apherese Dortmund
Univ.-Prof. Dr. med. Thomas Kraus, Director of the Institute for Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen

SP 22: Accelerated telomere shortening in peripheral blood lymphocytes after occupational polychlorinated biphenyls exposure

Prof. Dr. med. Tim H. Brümmendorf, Dr. med. Stefan Wilop, Dr. med. Fabian Beier, Klinik für Onkologie, Hämatologie und Stammzelltransplantation, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen
Dr. rer. nat. Patrick Ziegler, Institute for Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen

In den Jahren 1972 bis 1986 sind im Steinkohlebergbau in halboffenen Systemen technische Gemische als Hydrauliköle einegsetzt worden, welche diverse polychlorierte Biphnyleverbindungen (PCB) enthielten. Es ist nicht sicher auszuschließen, dass Bergleute hiermit in erheblichem Maße in Kontakt kamen und somit bei diesen eine innere Belastung mit PCB besteht, welche oberhalb der Belastung der alterentsprechenden Allgemeinbevölkerung liegt. Dies zusammen mit der RAG Deutsche Steinkolhle AG durch das IASU im Rahmen einer Pilotstudie untersucht. Allen Teilnehmern, bei denen erhöhte PCB Werte festgetsellt werden, wird die Teilnahme an einem medizinischen Untersuchungsprogamm seitens der RAG, welches auf die spezifischen Wirkungen von PCB ausgerichtet ist, angeboten.

Mittels Berechung einer standardisierten Inzidenzrate und Prüfung auf vorliegen eines signifikanten Unterschiedes zur Allgemeinbevölkerung mittels Kalkulation eines entsprechenden Konfidenzintervalls nach Agresti-Cull wird geprüft, ob ein Sektoreinfluss des Bergbaus hinsichtlich PCB Exposition bestand.

Zum Nachweis einer lange zurückliegenden Belastung mittels niedriger chlorierter Biphenyle, welche eine relativ kurze Halbwertszeit aufweisen, war zunächst eine die Entwicklung einer entsprechenden Methodik erforderlich. Hierzu wurde bereits eine Fall-Kontrollstudie (1:4, kontrolliert für Alter, Geschlecht und Zeitpunkt der Probenentnahme) mit Bergleuten und entsprechend nicht PCB Exponierten durchgeführt.

Vorbereitende Publikation:

Schettgen T, Alt A, Schikowsky C, Esser A, Kraus T. Human biomonitoring of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in plasma of former underground miners in Germany – A case-control study. International journal of hygiene and environmental health. 2018;221(7):1007-11.

Occupational health psychology

As a result of technological advances and globalization of the working world, workers’ mental demands have changed and will continue to change in many job tasks. By German law, employers are required to carry out psychosocial risk assessments in addition to existing risk assessments. Due to the complexity of psychosocial demands at work a scientific approach for psychosocial risk assessments is highly recommended, but has not been comprehensively established, yet.Within the current research project a software-based, branch- and task-specific, psychosocial risk assessment will be designed. The assessment method is intended to satisfy scientific demands as well practical demands.

Funding: Bavarian municipal accident insurance

Principal investigator: Jessica Lang

Since psychological health at work is of increasing relevance this project is set to develop and establish an eLearning Tool for employees.

After the successful development of an eLearning Tool for supervisors and leaders concerning „Psychological Health Promotion as a Leadership Task“ a new eLearning Tool is to be developed now providing explicit support for employees. This tool provides a resource to foster and maintain the inner balance and personal well-being. Therefore, employees are sensitized for their own occupational stress during their workday and the potential consequences works stressors may have for their psychological health. Individuals will learn how to manage different occupational stressors and job demands (e.g., unfavourable working conditions, social conflicts, trouble with the immediate supervisor) by applying techniques like crisis communication, seeking professional support, as well as identifying and using own resources. This tool will be established and funded within the “psyGA” Project by the “Initiative Neue Qualität der Arbeit (INQA). For more information visit www.psyga.info.

Principal Investigator: Jessica Lang

Chronic stress exposure by psychosocial risk factors are considered essential contributors to mental and somatic disorders. Due to the increasing importance of stress-related diseases on the economy and especially the increase in mental illness in the workplace, researchers are looking for biomarkers representing chronic stress exposure.

In psychological and neuroendocrine research the glucocorticoid cortisol and currently also its biologically inactive form - cortisone – are known to be an important organic link between the experienced stress (stressor) and the health consequences of strain, which builds on the activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. A relatively new methodology for the study of chronic stress is to determine the cortisol concentrations in human scalp hair. Since the growth rate of hair takes place relatively uniformly (approximately 1 cm / month), the Cortisol concentration contained therein can be considered as an integral of several weeks. Moreover, the sampling method is non-invasive and thus very practicable.

Through various studies we want to analyse the relationship between hair cortisol and cortisone as biomarkers for chronic stress with the subjective experience of stress as well as with physical health status in applied work settings. In the long run the goal would be to establish a method for secondary prevention in the future.

Quinete, N., Bertram, J., Reska, M., Lang, J., & Kraus, T. (2015). Highly selective and automated online SPE LC-MS3 method for determination of cortisol and cortisone in human hair as biomarker for stress related diseases. Talanta, 134, 310-316.

Principal Investigator: Jessica Lang  

To maintain the health and productivity of workers phases of recreation during their leisure time in order to recovery physiologically are of great importance. Work-related rumination in non-work time can hinder the recovery process. However, different types of ruminative behavior have been identified and can be broken down into an affective and cognitive component. When individuals ruminate affectively negative emotional thoughts are in the foreground, whereas with cognitive rumination the rational problem-solving orientation of a job task determines the work-related thoughts. Within the construct of work-related rumination, studies deal with the differential influence of affective and cognitive rumination on mental health. Also, various antecedents of ruminative behavior and personality differences are examined.

Hamesch, U., Cropley, M., & Lang, J.* (2014). Emotional versus Cognitive Rumination: Are They Differentially Affecting Long-term Psychological Health? The Impact of Stressors and Personality in Dental Students. Stress and Health, 30, 222-231.

Principal Investigator: Jessica Lang

Dealing with hazardous substances at work is an often required demand for specific occupations. Occupational hazardous substance exposure poses a severe threat to employees not only with respect to known adverse effects on the organism but also with respect to employees’ mental well-being. Exposure to hazardous substances in general and specific hazards like Asbestos or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in particular have been linked to psychological ill-health and are therefore a relevant topic for occupational health psychologist.

The OHP research group applies a multidisciplinary approach to understand the association of hazardous substance exposure and psychological well-being. The respective studies are based on participants of medical surveillance programs initiated for affected workers, who have been exposed to hazardous substances through their work environment. Participants are screened on a yearly basis for potential adverse (psychological) health outcomes by a multidisciplinary team of physicians, psychologists and a health economist.

Applying a theoretical approach, from a psychological perspective studies deal with the participants’ health protection behaviour and how individuals are dealing with their knowledge of the hazardous substance exposure with either avoidant or active coping styles. From a medical perspective we consider relevant characteristics of the hazardous substance and their impact of mental health besides the actual perceived health threat. For instance, some hazardous substances (like PCBs) are known to impact the neurotransmitter system, especially those associated with mental well-being. Therefore, we consider potential organic effects of hazardous substances on psychological health outcomes. Finally, from a health economic perspective, we apply quality adjusted life years as an evaluation tool of the medical surveillance program by simultaneously following the development of exposure specific health related quality of life over the time course of the studies.

Gaum, P.M., Esser, A., Schettgen, T., Gube, M., Kraus, T. & Lang, J.* (2014). Prevalence and Incidence Rates of Mental Syndromes after Occupational Exposure to Polychlorinated Biphenyls. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 217, 765-774.

Putschögl, F., Gaum. P. M., Schettgen, T., Gube, M., Kraus, T., & Lang, J.* (2015). Effects of occupational exposure with polychlorinated biphenyls on urinary metabolites of neurotransmitters: a cross sectional and longitudinal perspective. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 218, 452-460.

Esser, A., Gaum, P.M., Schettgen, T., Kraus, T., Gube, M., & Lang, J.* (2015). Effect of occupational polychlorinated biphenyls exposure on quality adjusted life years over time at the HELPcB Surveillance Program. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health: Part A, 78, 132-150.

Esser, A., Gube, M., Schettgen, T., Kraus, T., & Lang, J.* (2014). QALY as Evaluation tool in a health surveillance program. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 217, 399-404.

Molecular biomarkers

Principal investigators: Jens Bertram, M.Sc. and Dr. rer. nat. Thomas Schettgen

1-Vinyl-2-pyrrolidone (VP) is a chemical used for a wide variety of products and produced in industrial scale. VP is mainly used in the form of polymer products which can still contain VP monomers. Fields of use are the pharmaceutical and the cosmetic industry, the chemical industry as well as the agricultural and the food industry. VP is skin permeable and was classified as carcinogenic substance group 4 by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Considering the annual production volume and the penetration of the society with VP based products, the knowledge about the VP metabolism in humans and the kinetics of this substance is rather scarce.

The aim of this research project is therefore to enlarge knowledge about the VP metabolism and to identify a human biomarker for VP using exposure experiments with Sprague Dawley rats. A human biomonitoring method shall be established allowing the determination of a potential background burden of the general public, as well as providing a tool to monitor potential occupational burdens of workers exposed to VP.

Electromagnetic environmental compatibility

Principal investigator: Michael Kursawe

The planned integration of HVDC transmission lines in the German transmission network, as an essential expansion of the grid development plan as well as the German energy transition, leads to new questions regarding the human exposure to static electric and magnetic fields. Up to now the German ordinance on Electromagnetic Fields (26th BImSchV) has not specified limit values for static electric fields and the literature does not permit scientifically and statistically reliable statements of the perception threshold. The German Commission on Radiological Protection (SSK) strongly recommends that research projects should be carried out under well controlled conditions, especially on human perception.

In close cooperation with the Institute for High Voltage Technology at the RWTH Aachen University, a research project has been initiated. The aim is to determine the human perception threshold for static electric fields in consideration of ion currents and 50 Hz electric fields. To achieve a sufficient and scientific resilient significance level, a large study group of approximately 200 participants (men, women, younger and older people) will be tested applying whole-body exposure.

Principal investigator: Sarah Drießen

The aim of this research project is the monitoring and analysis of current research on health effects of extremely low frequency electric and magnetic fields for an on-demand-oriented risk communication. The study situation is shown in the EMF-Portal (www.emf-portal.org).

Principal investigator: Sarah Drießen

The aim of the research project is to develop, in cooperation with the Japan EMF Information Center (JEIC; http://www.jeic-emf.jp/english/index.html), a complete version of the EMF-Portal in Japanese and to implement it step by step into the existing German/English EMF-Portal. The implementation of the Japanese language into the EMF-Portal is a further important step towards its international visibility. For this purpose, a new version of the database, the administration system, and the website have to be programmed in order to allow this implementation technically. During an initial phase of five years all the technical prerequisites will be created and the accumulated contents will be translated into Japanese. After this initial phase, it is intended by JEIC in further cooperation with femu to keep the Japanese version updated, as it is currently done by femu for the English and German versions.

Principal investigator: Thomas Kraus

The new Flexible Electrical Networks FEN Research Campus that is funded by the Federal Ministry of Research focuses on research into design and operation of direct current systems for all voltage levels. In this context a medium voltage DC power grid will be installed on the RWTH campus. The emitted electromagnetic fields differ particularly by the static field components from the conventional power systems. The applied and newly designed components have to be tested for environmental compatibility especially because there are no existing exposure limits to static electric fields and possible risks have to be assessed.

Our task at this research campus is to investigate the interference of static electromagnetic fields and medical implants in human bodies. Induced electric currents in the human body can be calculated by simulations based on measurements of the occurring fields at the new power grid. Taking into account existing exposure limits the calculated currents can be assessed regarding health risks. Further the calculated currents contribute to a definition of a recommended limit for static electric fields.

Users of medical implants have to be considered separately regarding limits. Especially cardiac implants like pacemakers or defibrillators are susceptible to static or low frequency fields.

For more information visit: www.FENaachen.net

Principal investigator:Thomas Kraus

As part of the Access! research college, eleven chairs at RWTH University are researching during 4.5 years in an interdisciplinary cooperation on the question of "What mobility will we afford in the future?". Future technical and infrastructural possibilities as well as social demands and global environmental goals will be taken into account. Two practical projects will address the challenges in large cities - Metropole Ruhr - as well as those in rural areas - district Heinsberg. In addition, other practical partners are involved in the research college.

Our topic within the scope of the research college is a comprehensive analysis of the electromagnetic fields occurring in electric vehicles. In addition to driving, the associated inductive or wired charging systems are also to be taken into account. Due to the comparable technology and the transferability of the issues, the topic is not limited to electric cars, but also includes EMF on electric buses. The findings of this work should contribute to EMF safety in electromobility and be incorporated into future technical developments and guidelines for the evaluation of EMF.

Further information is available at: www.accessnrw.rwth-aachen.de

Principal investigator:Kai Jagielski

Resistance welding equipment uses high welding currents in the kA range, which are associated with the occurrence of intense magnetic fields in the operator area. In the case of resistance welding equipment, it is not unlikely that the permissible reference limits for the magnetic fields being exceeded while there will still be safety for the employee, because the basic restrictions for the electric field strengths in the body are complied with. However, such evidence can only be provided based on numerical field simulations using a body model. The results of such simulations are to be summarised in the database of a reference system which will enable the enterprises concerned (in particular small and medium-sized enterprises) to carry out the necessary field exposure assessments with a minimum of effort and which will guarantee the safety of the workers without the implementation of unjustifiably conservative requirements at the workplaces.

This research project is carried out in cooperation with the Institute for Electrical Energy Systems (IESY) of the Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg.

 

Principal investigator: Pia Schneeweiß

In this research project, the risk of ventricular fibrillation which can occur in humans as a result of electrical accidents in the low-frequency range is determined. Particular attention is paid to the modelling of tissue types that contribute significantly to the transport of electricity.

In a first step, the proportion of current flowing through the heart for different current paths, e.g. left hand to right hand or left hand to left foot, was calculated using numerical simulations.

Furthermore, the data from published studies on living pigs is implemented in simulations and the distribution of the electric field at the heart in ventricular fibrillation is calculated. This distribution is then transferred to the numerical human model and the contact voltage that triggers ventricular fibrillation in humans is deduced. In addition, the numerical SENN (Spatially Extended Nonlinear Node) model is used to verify the results.

This project aims to contribute to accident prevention by providing a better basis for assessing accidents caused by electrical current. The validated body model is suitable to simulate individual accident scenarios, to evaluate frequent accident scenarios ad-hoc and to identify critical accident scenarios.

Principal investigator:Sarah Drießen

The aim of the current project is to perform a systematic review on the biological and health-related effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted by wireless communication devices (mobile phones, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth etc.). The quality and impact of relevant scientific studies will be analyzed and evaluated.

Principal investigator: Sarah Drießen

The aim of this research project is the monitoring and analysis of current research on health-related effects of electric current. The publications are presented in the EMF-Portal (www.emf-portal.org) and can be searched in the category (topics) “electrical injury”.

Principal investigator:Dagmar Dechent

The aim of the project is to evaluate the feasibility of a pooled analysis of the association between amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and exposure to extremely low frequency magnetic fields (ELF-MF) and to prepare the study. At first, the current state of scientific knowledge on ALS and ELF-MF exposure is summarized and a systematic literature search of epidemiological studies is conducted. Based on these results, a feasibility study is conducted for a pooled analysis of the association between ALS and ELF-MF exposure and, if feasible, preliminary steps will be taken.

The project is realized in collaboration with the Institute for Medical Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Informatics (IMBEI) at the University Medical Center Mainz of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (www.unimedizin-mainz.de).

Funding: Federal Office for Radiation Protection

Evaluation of prevention concepts/medical care research

Principal investigator: Michael Felten

This is the outline for a multicentre project with partners in Europe and Africa: Waste electrical and electronic equipment (e-waste) is an example of hazardous materials streaming to countries where recycling is less costly and regulated. Various countries in Africa may become preferred destinations for e-waste. As large parts of their populations seek employment in the non-agricultural informal sector, precarious and insecure working conditions are often common place. Moreover, the impact of occupational safety and health (OSH) activities in the informal economy is limited by:

  1. a tendency to focus on curative rather than preventive measures of protection
  2. institutional and organisational deficiencies at local government level
  3. a lack of reliable data

Without good quality data, OSH interventions on the personal, organisational or technical level will be difficult to motivate. Baseline data are also needed for assessing the impact of interventions. We have therefore defined the following objectives:

  1. to assess general work conditions, basic techniques used and potential occupational hazards at different sites in various African countries
  2. to review current OSH activities for e-waste workers
  3. to collect biological samples of randomly selected groups of workers and measure the concentrations of selected toxic substances
  4. to determine the prevalence of toxic levels among the workers and the occupational tasks with the highest risk of exposure
  5. to build up local laboratory capacities by providing training and technical back-up, to ensure sustainable, routine, good quality testing of biological material
  6. to propose preventive protective measures, which are effective and affordable, and a flexible strategy for routine biological monitoring

Further information

  • (no author) Recycling and disposal of electronic waste. Health hazards and environmental impacts. Swedish Environmental Protection Agency Report 6417, Stockholm, 2011.
  • (no author) Where are WEEE in Africa? Findings from the Basel Convention e-waste Africa programme. Secretariat of the Basel Convention, Geneva, 2011.
  • Brigden K, Labunska I, Santillo D, Johnston P. Chemical contamination at e-waste recycling and disposal sites in Accra and Korforidua, Ghana. Greenpeace Research Laboratories Technical Note 10/2008. Greenpeace International, Amsterdam, 2008.
  • Osibanjo O, Nnorom IC. The challenge of electronic Waste (e-waste) management in developing countries. Waste Management and Research 2007, 25: 489-501.
  • Schmidt CW. Unfair trade: e-waste in Africa. Environmental Health Perspectives 2006, 114: A232-A235.

Interesting Links

  • UN-backed initiative to address electronic waste problem in Africa adopted
  • Basel Convention

Principal investigator: Thomas Kraus

The Institute of Occupational and Social Medicine of the Uniklinik RWTH Aachen, together with the company “KKM Arbeitsschutz”, works out a scientific project called "Quality management of occupational health care". The aim of the project is to identify indicators for optimizing the quality of occupational health care and to develop specific plans of action for optimizing various fields of occupational health care (e.g. regular care, examinations, general and specific occupational medical examinations, measures of health promotion, prevention management). Exemplary the cooperation between occupational medicine and specialists for occupational safety and health should be analyzed and a construct of optimal synergistic cooperation will be developed in this project. The implementation of the results will be introduced gradually into the practical care and checked for its practicability and acceptance.

Principal investigator:Thomas Kraus

Currently, there are 42.9 million employees in Germany (Statistisches Bundesamt, 2014). At work, employees are confronted with different workplace conditions, which fall under the fiduciary duty of their employers. It is scientifically proven that specific conditions at the workplace can have an influence on employee health. Physical strain (i.e. heavy lifting and carrying of loads) or handling of hazardous substances but also psychosocial stress can cause work-related illnesses or exacerbate existing health problems.

To prevent potential negative effects on the health of employees, companies consult experts who act as advisers. These experts are occupational physicians, who evaluate the potential for exposure at the workplaces and play an essential role in the occupational health prevention of workers through preventive medical screening and surveillance.

On the other hand, there are general practitioners who –on a daily basis – care for the health of their patients, of whom the majority are employees. GPs are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of specific diseases. However, it is extremely rare that an exchange of these two disciplines occur. Thereby, the cooperation and exchange between general medicine and occupational medicine could provide valuable information to detect work-related influences on the health of employees / working patients and thus improve the retention capability and the reintegration to work after serious or chronic illness, respectively. For the patient / employee the benefit would result in the improvement of health-related quality of life and individual job satisfaction.

This pilot study aims at elaborating possible standards and structures to foster the exchange between occupational and general medicine. Initially, a scientific validated questionnaire is developed, which represents the empirical basis to disclose a picture of the current occupational health- and strain situation of employees who show up in primary care settings. Also existing knowledge and attitudes towards occupational medicine are to be assessed in order to provide information on possible courses of action.

To ensure the validity of the results and to achieve the highest possible rate of return in the survey, anonymity and voluntariness are applied.