In analytical chemistry, biomonitoring is the measurement of the body burden[1] of toxic chemical compounds, elements, or their metabolites, in biological substances.[2][3] Often, these measurements are done in blood and urine.[4]

The two best established biomonitoring programs in representative samples of the general population are those of the United States and Germany, although population-based programs exist in a few other countries.[5] In 2001, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began to publish its biennial National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, which reports a statistically representative sample of the U.S. population.[6] The Environmental Working Group has also conducted biomonitoring studies.[7]


  • Overview 1
  • Surveys 2
  • National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals 3
  • National Children's Study 4
  • Methods and chemicals 5
  • Interpretation 6
  • Biomonitoring equivalents 7
  • Communication 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


Historically, public health regulations have been based on theoretical risk calculations according to known levels of chemical substances in air, water, soil, food, other consumer products and other sources of potential exposure. Human biomonitoring offers the opportunity to analyze the actual internal levels of bodily substances from all potential routes of exposure at one time, which may contribute to improving risk assessments.[8] Scientific advancements have made it possible to detect a greater number of chemical substances in smaller concentrations in the body, with some chemicals detectable at levels as low as parts per trillion.[9] A single biomonitoring measurement is only one snapshot in time and may not accurately reflect the level of exposure over longer periods.[10]

In 2006 the U.S. National Research Council published a report, Human Biomonitoring for Environmental Chemicals. The report recognized the value of biomonitoring for better understanding exposure to environmental chemicals, and included several findings and recommendations to improve the utility of biomonitoring data for health risk assessment.[11] In summary, the report called for more rigorous health-based criteria for selecting chemicals to include in biomonitoring studies; the development of tools and techniques to improve risk-based interpretation and communication of biomonitoring data; integration of biomonitoring into exposure assessment and epidemiological research; and exploration of bioethical issues around biomonitoring, including informed consent, confidentiality of results, and others.[12]

The issue of exposure to environmental chemicals has received attention as a result of televised reports by Bill Moyers for PBS and Anderson Cooper for CNN's "Planet in Peril" series.[13] The book Our Stolen Future, with a foreword by former Vice President Al Gore, also raised awareness by focusing on endocrine disruption.


  • In the United States, the CDC first tested samples from the general population for lead and a few pesticides in 1976.[14] In the late 1990s, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) program had a major expansion.[14]
  • Some U.S. states have received federal support[15] and have established biomonitoring programs. In 2001, the CDC awarded planning grants to 33 states to assist in capacity building for expanding biomonitoring.[16] The California Environmental Contaminant Biomonitoring Program (CECBP), is administered by the California Department of Public Health, and was established by law in 2006.[17] Minnesota's Biomonitoring Pilot Program was established by law in 2007 and is run by the Minnesota Department of Health.[18]
  • The Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Human Toxome Project and the Canadian group Environmental Defence's Toxic Nation project have directed studies.[7][19]
  • In Germany, the German Environmental Survey (GerES) has been active since 1985,[4][20] and in 1992 the Human Biomonitoring Commission of the German Federal Environment Agency was established.[21]
  • In Canada, Statistics Canada administers the Canadian Health Measures Survey, which includes biomonitoring for environmental chemicals.[22] Health Canada administers a program called Mother-Infant Research on Environmental Chemicals, which focuses on 2,000 pregnant women and their infants.[23]

National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals

The CDC's Division of Laboratory Sciences within the National Center for Environmental Health has developed a National Biomonitoring Program, and publishes the biennial National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. As the selection of chemicals is controversial, the CDC has identified influential criteria:[24]

  • Evidence of exposure in a U.S. population
  • The presence and significance of health effects after a given level of exposure
  • Desire to track public health initiatives to reduce exposure to a given agent
  • Existing method for accurately measuring biologically relevant concentrations of the chemical
  • Sufficient tissue specimens, in particular, blood and/or urine samples
  • Cost-effectiveness.

CDC has also established three criteria for removing chemicals from future editions of the National Report:

  • A new replacement chemical (i.e., a metabolite or other chemical) is more representative of exposure than the chemical currently measured, or
  • If after three survey periods, detection rates for all chemicals within a method-related group are less than 5 percent for all population subgroups (i.e., two sexes, three race/ethnicity groups, and the age groups used in the National Report), or
  • If after three survey periods, levels of chemicals within a method-related group are unchanged or declining in all demographic subgroups documented in the National Report.[25]

National Children's Study

In collaboration with the National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD), National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the CDC's Environmental Health Laboratory has announced it will play a key role in the biomonitoring of the ongoing National Children's Study, which plans to follow 100,000 children across the United States from birth until age 21. The study was authorized as part of the Children's Health Act of 2000 and is the largest effort undertaken to address the effects of social, economic and environmental factors on a child's health.[26]

Methods and chemicals

Chemicals and their metabolites can be detected in a variety of biological substances such as blood, urine, hair, semen, breast milk, or saliva.[27] persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) compounds during lactation; this exposure route is dominant for breastfeeding children.[28] A lipophilic compound might also be detected in blood, while a hydrophilic (water-loving) compound might be detected in urine. Analytical methods used by the CDC include isotope dilution mass spectrometry, inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, or graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry.[29]

Some of the detected chemicals include:


The presence of an environmental chemical in the body does not necessarily indicate harm.[30] The analytical chemistry of detecting chemicals has advanced more rapidly than the ability to interpret the potential health consequences.[31] Health risks are usually established from toxicity studies in laboratory animals and epidemiological evidence in humans. Lead is a well studied chemical with a CDC action level of concern, currently at 10 µg/dL, or 100 parts per billion, in blood; however, neurobehavioral impairment has been noted below this level.[32] Because this approach requires establishment of cause and effect in epidemiological studies and a thorough understanding of human dose response, data to support these types of action levels exist for only a few environmental chemicals. The concept of Biomonitoring Equivalents (BEs) has been developed as an alternative approach to aid in interpreting and communicating biomonitoring results in the context of potential risks to health.[33]

Surveys of human exposure to chemicals do not usually integrate the number of chemical compounds detected per person and the concentration of each compound. This leaves untested relevant exposure situations; e.g., whether individuals with low concentrations of some compounds have high concentrations of the other compounds. Analyses of the concentrations of a given compound usually show that most citizens have much lower concentrations than a certain minority. A study based on a representative sample of the population of Catalonia (Spain),[34] which integrated the number of compounds detected per person and the concentration of each compound, found that more than half of the population had concentrations in the top quartile of 1 or more of the 19 persistent toxic substances (PTS) (pesticides, PCBs) analyzed. Significant subgroups of the population accumulated PTS mixtures at high concentrations. For instance, 48% of women 60–74 years had concentrations of 6 or more PTS in the top quartile; half of the entire population had levels of 1 to 5 PTS above 500 ng/g, and less than 4% of citizens had all PTS in the lowest quartile. Thus, PTS concentrations appear low in most of the population only when each individual compound is looked at separately. It is not accurate to state that most of the population has low concentrations of PTS. The assessment of mixture effects must address the fact that most individuals are contaminated by PTS mixtures made of compounds at both low and high concentrations.

Biomonitoring equivalents

Scientists performing biomonitoring testing are able to detect and measure concentrations of natural and manmade chemicals in human blood and urine samples at parts-per-billion to parts-per-quadrillion levels. A 2006 U.S. National Research Council report found that while scientists were capable of detecting the chemicals at these levels, methods for interpreting and communicating what their presence meant regarding potential health risks to an individual or population were still lacking.[11] The report recommended that scientific research be done to improve the interpretation and communication of biomonitoring results through the use of existing risk assessments of specific chemicals.[11]

To address this situation, several groups recognized that exposure guidance values, such as reference dose and tolerable daily intake, could, with sufficient data, be translated into corresponding estimates of biomarker concentrations for use in the interpretation of biomonitoring data.[35][36] In 2007, the initial methodology for the systematic translation of exposure guidance values into corresponding screening values for biomonitoring data, dubbed Biomonitoring Equivalents, was published by scientists from Summit Toxicology.[36] Subsequently, an expert panel from government, industry and academia, convened to develop detailed guidelines for deriving and communicating these Biomonitoring Equivalents.[37]

Biomonitoring Equivalents can be used for evaluation of biomonitoring data in a risk assessment context. Comparing biomonitoring data for a chemical with its Biomonitoring Equivalent provides a means for assessing whether population exposures to chemicals are within or above the levels considered safe by regulatory agencies.[38] Biomonitoring Equivalents can thus assist scientists and risk managers in the prioritization of chemicals for follow-up or risk management activities.[36]

Since 2007, scientists have derived and published Biomonitoring Equivalents for more than 110 chemicals, including

  • National Biomonitoring Program
  • Human Biomonitoring for Environmental Chemicals, National Research Council
  • Biomonitoring – EPA Needs to Coordinate Its Research Strategy and Clarify Its Authority to Obtain Biomonitoring Data, United States Government Accountability Office
  • The heart of the matter on breastmilk and environmental chemicals: essential points for healthcare providers and new parents, Review
  • The interpretation of trace element analysis in body fluids, Review

External links

  1. ^ What is body burden?
  2. ^ "Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals" (PDF).  
  3. ^ "What is Biomonitoring?" (PDF).  
  4. ^ a b Angerer, Jürgen; Ewers, Ulrich; Wilhelm, Michael (2007). "Human biomonitoring: State of the art". International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health 210 (3–4): 201–28.  
  5. ^ Porta M, et al. Monitoring concentrations of persistent organic pollutants in the general population: the international experience. Environment International 2008; 34: 546–561.
  6. ^ "About the Program". Centers for Disease Control. 3 April 2008. Retrieved 25 May 2009. 
  7. ^ a b "About the Human Toxome Project". Human Toxome Project. Environmental Working Group. Retrieved 30 September 2009. 
  8. ^ Juberg, Daland R.; Bus, James; Katz, Diane S. (February 2008). "The Opportunities and Limitations of Biomonitoring". Policy Brief ( 
  9. ^ "What is Biomonitoring?" (PDF). American Chemistry Council. Retrieved 11 January 2009. 
  10. ^ Foster, Warren G.; Agzarian, John (2006). "Reporting results of biomonitoring studies". Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 387 (1): 137–40.  
  11. ^ a b c Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology (2006). "Human Biomonitoring for Environmental Chemicals". U.S. National Research Council. Retrieved 2012-01-20. 
  12. ^ "Statement on Biomonitoring". Retrieved 23 July 2009. 
  13. ^ "Planet in Peril". CNN. October 2007. Retrieved 13 December 2009. 
  14. ^ a b Stokstad, E. (2004). "BIOMONITORING: Pollution Gets Personal". Science 304 (5679): 1892–4.  
  15. ^ "State Grant Activities".  
  16. ^ National Research Council (2006). Human Biomonitoring for Environmental Chemicals. National Academies Press.  
  17. ^ "California Biomonitoring Program". Retrieved 23 July 2009. 
  18. ^ "Environmental Public Health Tracking & Biomonitoring". Minnesota Department of Health. 2009-07-21. Retrieved 23 July 2009. 
  19. ^ "Toxic Nation Studies". Toxic Nation. Environmental Defence. 17 October 2007. Retrieved 30 September 2009. 
  20. ^ Schulz, C.; Conrad, A.; Becker, K.; Kolossa-Gehring, M.; Seiwert, M.; Seifert, B. (2007). "Twenty years of the German Environmental Survey (GerES): Human biomonitoring – Temporal and spatial (West Germany/East Germany) differences in population exposure". International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health 210 (3–4): 271–97.  
  21. ^ a b Schulz, C.; Angerer, J.; Ewers, U.; Kolossa-Gehring, M. (2007). "The German Human Biomonitoring Commission". International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health 210 (3–4): 373–82.  
  22. ^ "Canadian Health Measures Survey". Statistics Canada. 19 March 2004. Retrieved 2 October 2009. 
  23. ^ "Maternal-Infant Research on Environmental Chemicals (The MIREC Study)". Health Canada. 12 December 2007. Retrieved 2 October 2009. 
  24. ^ Paustenbach, Dennis; Galbraith, David (2006). "Biomonitoring and Biomarkers: Exposure Assessment Will Never Be the Same". Environmental Health Perspectives 114 (8): 1143–9.  
  25. ^ "Public Comments and Revised Criteria for Removing Chemicals Future Editions of CDC's National Report on Human Exposure Environmental Chemicals". Federal Register 73 (61): 16688. 28 March 2008. Retrieved 10 November 2009. 
  26. ^ "National Children's Study". 2009-07-07. Retrieved 23 July 2009. 
  27. ^ Sexton, Ken; Needham, Larry; Pirkle, James (2004). "Human Biomonitoring of Environmental Chemicals". American Scientist 92: 38–45.  
  28. ^ Smolders, Roel; Schramm, Karl-Werner; Nickmilder, Marc; Schoeters, Greet (2009). "Applicability of non-invasively collected matrices for human biomonitoring". Environmental Health 8: 8.  
  29. ^ "Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals". Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2007 
  30. ^ "Interpreting the Data". Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2007. Retrieved 30 September 2009. 
  31. ^ a b "Human Biomonitoring for Environmental Chemicals". National Research Council. 2008 
  32. ^ Lead (Pb) Toxicity: What Are the U.S. Standards for Lead Levels? ATSDR.
  33. ^ "Interpretation of Report Data: Important Factors". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 2012-02-28. 
  34. ^ Porta M, et al. Number of persistent organic pollutants detected at high concentrations in a general population. Environment International 2012; 44: 106-111.
  35. ^ Tan, Yu-Mei; Liao, Kai H; Clewell, Harvey J (2006). "Reverse dosimetry: Interpreting trihalomethanes biomonitoring data using physiologically based pharmacokinetic modeling". Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology 17 (7): 591–603.  
  36. ^ a b c Hays, S.M.; Becker, R.A.; Leung, H.W.; Aylward, L.L.; Pyatt, D.W. (2007). "Biomonitoring equivalents: A screening approach for interpreting biomonitoring results from a public health risk perspective".  
  37. ^ a b Hays, Sean M.; Aylward, Lesa L.; Lakind, Judy S.; Bartels, Michael J.; Barton, Hugh A.; Boogaard, Peter J.; Brunk, Conrad; Dizio, Stephe et al. (2008). "Guidelines for the derivation of Biomonitoring Equivalents: Report from the Biomonitoring Equivalents Expert Workshop". Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 51 (3): S4–15.  
  38. ^ "Advertisement". Chemical & Engineering News 86 (14): 52. 2008.  
  39. ^ Angerer, Jürgen; Aylward, Lesa L.; Hays, Sean M.; Heinzow, Birger; Wilhelm, Michael (2011). "Human biomonitoring assessment values: Approaches and data requirements". International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health 214 (5): 348–60.  
  40. ^ a b "Monitoring and Surveillance Activities under Canada's Chemicals Management Plan". Government of Canada, Chemical Substances Division. Retrieved 2012-01-20. 
  41. ^ "Consensus Statement on Human Biomonitoring". Measuring Chemicals in People -- What Would You Say?. Boston University School of Public Health. Retrieved 23 July 2009. 
  42. ^ Lakind, Judy S.; Aylward, Lesa L.; Brunk, Conrad; Dizio, Stephen; Dourson, Michael; Goldstein, Daniel A.; Kilpatrick, Michael E.; Krewski, Daniel et al. (2008). "Guidelines for the communication of Biomonitoring Equivalents: Report from the Biomonitoring Equivalents Expert Workshop". Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 51 (3): S16–26.  
  43. ^ McKay, Jr., C.A.; Holland, M.G.; Nelson, L.S. (2003). "A Call to Arms for Medical Toxicologists: The dose, not the detection, makes the poison". International Journal of Medical Toxicology 6 (1): 1 
  44. ^ John Heinze (2009). "Science Advisory Council member Dr. Charles McKay provides a medical doctor's perspective on biomonitoring". Biomonitoring Info. Retrieved 30 September 2009. 


See also

Charles McKay of the Connecticut Poison Control Center is interviewed in a video titled "A Medical Doctor's Perspective on Biomonitoring", which is focused on helping the general public better understand biomonitoring.[43][44]

An expert panel on Biomonitoring Equivalents has published guidelines for communicating information to the general public and health care providers.[42]

[41] In 2007, the [31] The National Research Council's 2006 report emphasized that accurate communication of results is essential for the proper use of biomonitoring surveys, but at the same time noted "there is no accepted standard for good biomonitoring communications."


[40] have also proposed a concept for deriving screening values similar to Biomonitoring Equivalents.[21] Researchers from the German Human Biomonitoring Commission[37].Health Canada and CDC, Environmental Protection Agency Several have been developed through collaborations of scientists from the U.S. [40][39]