Content

Current research projects

Early detection of occupational and environmental diseases

Asbestos Related Diseases

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.

Characterization of biological effects of ultrafine particles from welding fumes under controlled conditions

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.

Health effects of fine particulate matter in brown coals-mining exposure considering different particle-size and particle composition.

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.

Occupational health study "combined exposure to whole-body vibration and posture"

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.

Occupational health psychology

Development and Evaluation of a psychosocial risk assessment tool

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

Psychological health promotion for employees

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.

Hair Cortisol and Cortisone as a biomarker for chronic health impairments

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.

Recovery from Work: The impact of work-related rumination

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.

Investigating psychological well-being after occupational hazardous substance exposure – a multidisciplinary perspective

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

Animal experimental investigations of the metabolism of 1-vinyl-2-pyrrolidone

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.

HELPcB (Health effects in high level exposure to PCB)

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 of Occupational 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 of Occupational 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

PD Dr. med. Monika Gube, Institute of Occupational 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

PD Dr. med. Monika Gube, Institute of Occupational 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, PD Dr. med. Monika Gube, Institute of Occupational 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
PD Dr. med. Monika Gube, Institute of Occupational 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 of Occupational 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 of Occupational 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 of Occupational 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 of Occupational 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 of Occupational Medicine, Uniklinik RWTH Aachen

Electromagnetic environmental compatibility

Determination of current density distributions in human bodies due to electric shocks up to 1 MHz using numerical body models

Principal investigator: Tobias Seckler, M. Sc.

The goal of this research project is a detailed risk assessment of current density distributions in human bodies during electric shocks using numerical models of the human body. Modeling the electrical properties of the different body tissues, through which most of the current is driven and the calculation of the so called heart current factor (HCF) will therefore be the key focus. 

The numerical simulation’s results will be evaluated in two steps:

1. The calculation of the current portion within the heart for a variety of current paths. The current portion is then normalized to the current path from the left hand to the left foot and compared to the values provided by the IEC standard 60479-1 and the current literature at 50 Hz. The applied methods will be recreated in order to validate the numerical model. After the validation for 50 Hz the frequency dependency of the HCFs will be evaluated up to 1 MHz.

2. The contribution of each body tissue to the total current will be scrutinized. We will be searching for regularities and properties which determine the current distribution in the human body at different frequencies in order to identify particularly endangered body areas.

This research project is designed to improve accident prevention, by providing novel insights and assessment possibilities in case of electric shocks.

Determination of human perception threshold in static electric fields from high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines

Principal investigators: Kristina Schmiedchen und Dominik Stunder 

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.

Advancement of the internet information platform “EMF Portal” and development into a WHO Collaboration Centre

Principal investigator: Sarah Drießen

The Internet information platform "EMF-Portal" (www.emf-portal.org) summarizes results of scientific research on the effects of electromagnetic fields (EMF) for interested citizens, policy makers, scientists and multipliers such as doctors, politicians and lawyers and provides this information online in English and German. The EMF portal consists of different modules (including literature database, glossary and database of field sources) that are interconnected and linked to each other. The core of the EMF-Portal is a comprehensive collection of literature including over 20,500 publications (in January 2015) and nearly 4,200 summaries of individual publications. The EMF-Portal is the largest available free EMF database in the world.

The aim of this research project is to

  • give a comprehensive overview of the exposure of the population to low and radio frequency fields with reliable scientific data,
  • to complete the scientific content on the health effects of electromagnetic fields with additional tables and graphics to illustrate clearly the entire width of the literature in the area of electromagnetic environmental interaction
  • to create specific summaries on a number of important topics and
  • to provide general principles as background information,

In doing so, the research project wants to fulfill the information needs of citizens in the area of health effects of electromagnetic fields, but also to serve national and international expert bodies in setting limits and in the assessment of the health effects of electromagnetic fields.

EMF-Portal - Update the display of literature on the health effects of mobile phone-related union-frequency fields for an on-demand-oriented risk communication

Principal investigator: Sarah Drießen

The aim of this research project is to identify new scientific studies on health effects of mobile phone-related radiofrequency fields, the graphical representation of the entire study situation in the EMF-Portal (www.emf-portal.org) and the extraction of selected experimental and epidemiological publications.

EMF-Portal - literature on extremely low frequency range (LF)

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).

Relaunch EMF-Portal - redesign, consolidation and standardization of IT infrastructure to ensure the future viability

Principal investigator: Sarah Drießen

The aim of this project is to consolidate the information technology infrastructure of the EMF-Portal (www.emf-portal.org) and to adapt it to the current state of technology, in order to ensure the functional readiness and expandability of the EMF-Portal in the future .In addition, an optical website redesign and a more modern user guidance should give the relevant target groups appropriate and specific entry points into the EMF-Portal, to guarantee that all relevant information gets displayed clearly and the user receives quick and efficient responses to his or her questions.

Development and implementation of a Japanese version of the scientific online information system “EMF-Portal” as a further step in its internationalization.

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.

Environmental Compatibility and Assessment of Future Electrical Grids at the Flexible Electrical Networks FEN Research Campus

Principal investigator: Thomas Kraus

The new Flexible Electrical Networks FEN Reseach 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

Creating a continuative brochure in addition to the hand-out for the assessment of study results

Principal investigator: Frank Gollnick

The aim of the project is to develop a supplemental brochure for the existing guideline with regard to the evaluation of study results (https://doris.bfs.de/jspui/bitstream/urn:nbn:de:0221-2014042311394/3/BfS_2014_FM8855.pdf) for employees who are PoCs for residents regarding the topic of mobile communications and health at local communities or government agencies, or act e.g. in the Public Health Service (PHS).

This brochure is intended to enable responsible PoCs to

  • better understand the functioning of the guideline,
  • better understand, justify and communicate the results of the guideline,
  • respond to possible queries more comprehensive, and
  • enter into objective dialogue with interested laymen.

Before drawing up the final version, the draft brochure is evaluated together with the existing hand-out in a practical test with 21 participants and optimized on the basis of the feedback received.

The project is realized in collaboration with the Institute of History, Theory and Ethics in Medicine of the Uniklinik RWTH Aachen.

Study on the effect of environmental low-frequency magnetic fields to medical implants

Principal investigator: Dominik Stunder

The human exposure to electromagnetic fields in the environment has been increasing for years due to the rising use of modern communication technologies, the expansion of transmission networks as well as the general technological development. Wherever electrical power is used low-frequency electric and magnetic fields occur; this also applies to electrically powered means of transportation such as trains, elevators or electric cars.

A survey conducted on behalf of the European Commission shows that 46% of the European population are concerned or very concerned about possible health risks caused by electromagnetic fields. Of particular relevance among human exposure with electromagnetic fields is the safety of people with electric, so called active implants like pacemakers or defibrillators.

The aim of this study is to measure the voltage induced in the human body by low-frequency magnetic fields from different external sources. This measurement technique allows a risk assessment of electromagnetic interference of cardiac implants. Therefore, a measuring system will be developed which is able to record the voltage induced in the lead of the cardiac implant by arbitrary magnetic fields up to 50 kHz.

Evaluation of prevention concepts/medical care research

eWaste

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  

Quality management of occupational health care

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.

Management of the interface between occupational medicine and general medicine

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.

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