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What is Biomonitoring?

Biomonitoring is the laboratory analysis of blood, urine, serum, saliva and other body fluids for the purpose of identifying the burden of certain chemicals present in the human body. Biomonitoring allows us to recognize the populations that are exposed to and affected by chemicals in the environment. When combined with a nationwide system for tracking chronic diseases, biomonitoring can provide the information necessary for public health departments, health care providers, and policymakers to identify and address public health threats.

How Does Biomonitoring Currently Take Place?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently conducts its biomonitoring program through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). NHANES is an annual, cross-sectional, representative survey designed to collect information about the health and diet of the civilian, non-institutionalized population of the United States. NHANES samples about 5,000 people every year through a Mobile Examination Center, staffed by medical professionals, which travels around the country to randomly selected households, conducting both interviews and physical exams. 
In 1999, 27 chemicals were added to the NHANES examination, providing information on the magnitude and extent of population exposure to built or natural environmental contaminants in air, water, soil and food. This biomonitoring, although limited, provided the information for the first National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, published by the CDC in 2001. National Report on Humane Exposure to Environmental Chemicals: CDC aims to expand the number of chemicals covered by the NHANES exam to about 100 over the next few years.


The National Exposure Report: Understanding the relationship between chemicals and the human body

The publication of the National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals is an important step towards establishing the link between the environment and chronic disease. However, it remains a "snapshot" of the American public's exposure to some common pollutants in the environment. It is important to recognize that information gathered on chemicals in the human body, such as the data provided by CDC's biomonitoring study, is only one piece of the puzzle. There are many chemicals for which we have little or no information regarding long-term chronic health effects. The nation still has an incomplete picture of the types and levels of various chemical contaminants in our food, water and air. Therefore, we need to learn much more about the chemicals in our surrounding environment and how they are metabolized or stored by the human body, or how they interact in conjunction with food items, medications, prescribed or over the counter. This information is important for all Americans, but of particular importance to those populations who may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of certain chemicals. These include infants, young children and pregnant women. 
Furthermore, the NHANES study is burdened by limitations that include:

  • A limited set of pollutants: in 1999 it was only 27;

  • Limited geographic coverage: in 1999 NHANES was conducted in only 12 locations across the country; there is not enough data to make conclusions about environmental exposures on state or local levels;

  • Initial funding that was inadequate to complete the analysis of findings and make data available to researchers, policymakers, and the public; and

  • Lack of association with ongoing health surveillance that could link human exposures to known environmental hazards. 

How Does Biomonitoring Relate to a Chronic Disease Monitoring and Tracking Network?

Biomonitoring constitutes an important part of the nationwide chronic disease monitoring and tracking system needed by the United States. It may confirm that an exposure has occurred and caused illness. The current disease registries for cancers and birth defects are important and must be expanded and linked to such national tracking system. The data obtained must be overlaid with current hazard tracking done by the EPA and the clinical tracking of incidence and prevalence of chronic diseases and conditions. In addition, further characterization of the affected population in terms of other population-based determinants can serve to inform public health officials, clinicians, industry and public officials. Such an integration of information can provide the best possible answer on whether communities are suffering illness that may be attributable to environmental toxins. Only when all this information is complete can we systematically identify and analyze the relationships between human exposure to environmental hazards in a particular area, the toxins found in the bodies of those who live there, and the incidence and prevalence of certain diseases and conditions in that same population.


Read the reports and studies on children's environmental health by CLICKING HERE.