What is Biomonitoring?

Put most simply, biomonitoring is measuring chemicals in peoples’ bodies. You may not have heard the term, but you’re probably familiar with some examples: testing blood for lead levels, breathalyzer tests for drunk driving, and drug tests. These are all biomonitoring. They measure levels of a chemical in peoples’ bodies by testing a body tissue or fluid – in these cases, blood, breath, and urine. Other types of body fluids or tissues used include hair, saliva, and breast milk.

With the help of new instruments, scientists can now measure very small amounts of chemicals in the body more easily and cheaply than ever before. Biomonitoring is an important tool for researchers conducting health studies. The U.S. government now releases a report every two years that measures levels of a growing list of chemicals in a large group of Americans. And biomonitoring is increasingly being used by community-based and environmental advocacy groups to document exposure to chemicals in the environment.

For most of the chemicals we can detect, however, we do not know what the levels in a person’s body mean for their health. The increasing use of biomonitoring raises many questions about how it should be done responsibly, how the information should be used, and what people should be told about the results. These are the kinds of problems we will address through the Consensus Conference.

For more information on biomonitoring, see:

Materials read by the lay panel

Government information

Industry sites

Environmental advocacy sites