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Human Biomonitoring for Environmental Chemicals
data. In another example, data on serum cotinine, a biomarker of exposure to second-hand smoke, showed that serum cotinine in U.S. children and adults declined by more than 50% among nonsmokers from 1998 to 2002, demonstrating the effectiveness of smoking cessation efforts in the United States.
For population-based studies, biomonitoring data can help to identify chemicals that are found in the environment and in human tissues, can be used to monitor changes in exposure, and can be used to establish the distribution of exposure among the general population. Biomonitoring provides a measurement of exposure that—when used with available epidemiology, toxicology, and pharmacokinetic modeling data—can help to estimate how much has been absorbed into the body and estimate potential health risk. Biomonitoring can also be a very efficient means of assessing exposure and can provide a context for understanding environmental exposures on an international level.
In spite of the potential of biomonitoring, tremendous challenges surround its use. They include improving our ability to design biomontoring studies, interpreting what biomonitoring data mean for health risk and public health, addressing ethical uses of the data, and communicating results to policy-makers and the public.
To realize its potential, an investment in biomonitoring research is needed to address the critical knowledge gaps that hinder our ability to use and interpret the biomonitoring data. The committee’s research recommendations focus not on specific chemicals but rather on methods that can be applied to a broad array of chemicals. Implementation of the research recommendations will benefit from enhancement of some parts of our nation’s research infrastructure.
To address the challenge of improving the interpretation and use of biomonitoring data, the committee has developed four major findings and corresponding research recommendations. The committee considered these recommendations to be of the highest priority in advancing the field of biomonitoring. Addressing the knowledge gaps will require a broader vision of biomonitoring, including a coordinated scientific approach to setting priorities for biomarker development; better integration of epidemiology, toxicology, pharmacokinetic modeling, and exposure assessment to put biomonitoring results into a meaningful risk context; improved reporting of biomonitoring results; and understanding of the ethical issues that constrain the advancement of biomonitoring. Other research recommendations, not addressed below, are found in Chapters 3-6.