report. The committee was charged to review current practices and recommend ways to improve the interpretation and uses of human biomonitoring data on environmental chemicals. It was asked to develop an overall research agenda for addressing the uncertainties in biomonitoring data, to improve evaluations and characterizations of health risks from biomonitoring data, and to improve tracking of changes in biomonitoring data potentially relevant to public health.

In undertaking its evaluation, the committee focused primarily on biomonitoring in population-based studies, such as CDC’s National Report on Human Exposures to Environmental Chemicals and EPA’s National Human Exposure Assessment Survey, because these studies raise the most far-reaching and challenging issues regarding the interpretation of biomonitoring data. The population-based studies have demonstrated that representative samples of the population have relatively low concentrations of chemicals in their bodies; 3 however, for most of these chemicals, the data and methods needed to interpret what the concentrations mean are often not available. The committee also considered applications of biomonitoring beyond the population-based studies—such as source investigations, occupational investigations, and individual risk characterization— since biomonitoring is used for myriad purposes.


Biomonitoring is a tool with great potential. It has been of value in identifying human exposures to chemicals that pose potential harm to human health, in understanding exposure status and trends, in fostering public-health interventions, and in validating environmental-health policies. Rapidly developing technological capabilities to measure chemicals in the human body have increased the availability of biomonitoring information. However, the complete potential of this tool has yet to be realized, inasmuch as the science (epidemiology, toxicology, pharmacokinetic modeling, and exposure assessment) needed to understand the implications of biomonitoring data for human health is still in its nascent stages. For some chemicals (such as mercury and lead), the health risks and effects are well known; but for most of the chemicals currently measured, the risks cannot be interpreted. Scientists, policy-makers, and the public are just beginning to grasp the tremendous ethical and communication challenges that the biomonitoring data are creating.

In this report, the committee presents a roadmap for addressing many of the unanswered questions. The roadmap begins with a framework for


In the 1-part-per-billion (ppb) range or below for many commonly used chemicals or their breakdown products.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement