Biomonitoring

ACS Position Statement

Biomonitoring involves the measurement of chemicals in humans (and other species) and is rapidly advancing our ability to detect and quantify potentially hazardous exposure to a wide range of chemicals.  Biomonitoring studies now routinely yield novel, and sometimes surprising, information about the accumulation of chemicals in living receptors.  How best to enhance, interpret, and utilize biomonitoring is an important policy issue.

Biomonitoring may have its greatest value in dealing with chemicals that alter the development of living things.  In recent years, it has become clear that many anthropogenic chemicals, including some that are widely used, can interfere with the cellular signaling mechanisms controlling development, even at the low levels of environmental exposure experienced by the general population.  Both animal and human studies link altered cellular signaling to developmental impairments.

Advances in analytical chemistry now allow affordable measurement of environmental chemicals and their metabolites in tissue, blood, urine, hair, milk, and other biological samples.  Newly developed measurement devices that facilitate sample collection and analysis will continue to propel the field forward.  Such biomonitoring produces data that provide study participants, public health and environmental scientists, policymakers, and the general public with information about patterns of human exposure to chemicals.  Biomonitoring can also identify high-exposure populations, detect previously unknown exposures, quantify and track trends, and guide prevention strategies.  The information obtained by biomonitoring provides an invaluable resource to government and industry on where to focus regulatory and management efforts to reduce exposure and identify opportunities for better products.  Moreover, such information can provide valuable evidence for evaluating how to regulate and manage endocrine disruptors, major oil spills, as well as pharmaceuticals and pesticides in drinking water.

The analytical chemist’s ability to measure substances in humans is often greater than our ability to interpret the information in a scientific context (toxicology, pharmacokinetic modeling, epidemiology, and exposure assessment).  The classical toxicology picture has been made more complicated by recently discovered dose responses for certain toxicants where impairment-related effects are observed at lower, but not at higher, doses.  More vigorous and sustained research efforts are justified by the resulting uncertainties in cumulative and chronic health impacts and environmental effects.

Germany and Canada have well established biomonitoring programs, and several U.S. states have initiated them also.  In addition, there have been efforts in the United States to establish a national agenda for biomonitoring.

  • The National Research Council issued Human Biomonitoring for Environmental Chemicals. (July 2006)
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. (December 2009)
  • The Institute of Medicine published Evaluation of Biomarkers and Surrogate Endpoints for Chronic Disease. (May 2010)

The rapidly increasing interest in collecting and using biomonitoring data for public health decisions highlights the need to refine this information.  The associated data analysis and interpretation techniques should continue to be developed expeditiously and with full scientific rigor.  The American Chemical Society endorses the expansion of the field of biomonitoring as a significant tool for better identifying and understanding the potential environmental and human health risks associated with chemical exposures, and it specifically encourages expansion of funding for

  • Continued development of biomonitoring as a methodology for tracking the fate of chemicals, their exposure pathways, uptake mechanisms, and trends in human exposures.
  • Improvements in our ability to design, interpret, and communicate biomonitoring studies that ensure a coordinated strategy for the selection of target chemicals and biomarkers.  This should be based on scientific data about the exposure and potential health effects in the overall U.S. population and susceptible subpopulations, such as children.
  • Continued development of tools to interpret and communicate the meaning of biomonitoring data to individuals and groups.
  • Improvements in analytical methodology to assure accuracy, precision, sensitivity, specificity, and speed for all chemicals of concern and the availability of blood, urine, hair, milk, and other biological samples.
  • Use of biomonitoring data to help guide the funding of experimental toxicological research to better understand atypical dose responses, toxicity thresholds, endocrine disruption and its mechanisms of action, and other health implications of low-level chemical exposure to fauna and humans.
  • Development of biomonitoring-based epidemiologic, toxicologic, and exposure-assessment methods to enhance public health surveillance and further the scientific community’s ability to interpret the risks posed by low-level exposure to environmental chemicals.
  • Use of biomonitoring data in conjunction with other appropriate health and environmental data to foster research and development of greener alternatives guiding the transition of chemical processes and products away from hazardous substances.
  • Expanded educational opportunities for the scientific community (especially chemists), as well as the general public, emphasizing the importance of biomonitoring, its strengths and limitations, and how it can be used to advance the development of a less hazardous technology base.

The ultimate objective of biomonitoring research is to understand the public health implications of exposure to environmental chemicals by linking biomarkers of exposure to biomarkers of effect and susceptibility.  The ACS supports this objective and the application of the resulting knowledge to motivate and guide the design of green alternatives to chemicals that biomonitoring has helped identify as threats to human health and the environment.