Biomonitoring is the direct measurement of environmental chemicals, their primary metabolites, or their reaction products in people—usually in blood or urine specimens. The CDC Division of Laboratory Services has developed methods to measure 200 substances in blood or urine, including but not limited to polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, furans, the persistent organic pollutants, DDT and its metabolite DDE, nonpersistent organic pesticides and their metabolites, polyaromatic hydrocarbon metabolites, phthalate metabolites, metals (e.g., lead), volatile organic compounds, and phytoestrogens.2

The NHANES survey also includes information about the health and diet of people in the United States. There are both questionnaire and laboratory measurements on a survey of 4,800 children younger than age 19 over a 2-year cycle. Laboratory measurements include iron status, vitamin stores and folate levels, and indicators of specific infections such as viral hepatitis.

Biomarkers of Effects

There are few measurement activities related to biomarkers of effects that are not measurements of health. For example, the NHANES survey measures a few, such as physical growth, biomarkers of inflammation and bone density, and liver, kidney, and respiratory function. NHANES also measures immunization status by measuring antibody levels as a result of immunization. While patterns of changes in gene expression may be a sensitive and specific biomarker of effect, no current population-based measurement activities of gene expression are currently taking place, except in clinical settings for research purposes.

Challenges in Measuring Biological Influences

Several methodological issues are of concern in measuring biological influences. First, obtaining biological samples from fetuses and children is difficult. Samples for biomarkers must be obtained ethically, non-invasively and with a minimum of pain, and be acceptable to both child and parent. Table 5-1 provides examples of types of samples with their advantages and disadvantages. Although it may soon be possible to determine multiple polymorphisms in individuals, the ethical issues in doing so are complex. Guidelines on the ethics of this testing have been proposed (Bakhtiar and Nelson, 2001).

Second, validating a biomarker as a true measure of a biological influence on health is difficult and time-consuming. A number of steps are necessary, includ

2  

The current national status report of population exposure levels (from the CDC’s 2002 NHANES) for 116 of these chemicals can be found on the CDC web site: http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/.



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