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Source: NIEHS.

July 30, 2008, 1:26 pm
April 26, 2012, 12:51 pm
Source: CDC


Recognizing and understanding the potential for chemical substances in the environment to harm humans and wildlife depends upon, in part, knowing about: exposure; amounts of chemicals that actually get into an organism's body; and the concentrations of chemicals in their bodies that can be related to adverse health effects.

What is Biomonitoring?

Biological monitoring or biomonitoring in humans, is the direct measurement of levels of chemical substances in blood, urine, breast-milk or saliva; and such other tissues as bone, teeth, skin, hair and nails. {C}Biological monitoring of wildlife and other species may include additional tissues such as muscle (for example fish fillets), liver, fat, eggs, and reproductive tissues. One of the longest running environmental biomonitoring programs in the Unites States is the {C}National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Status and Trends Program mussel watch project which measures chemical and biological contamination in bivalves such as oysters and mussels.


Throughout the world, biomonitoring has become the standard for assessing people's exposure to {C}toxic substances as well as for responding to serious environmental public health problems. Rather than guessing how much of a substance gets into people from measured environmental concentrations, environmental and environmental health scientists have taken out the guesswork by measuring levels of chemicals that actually are in people's bodies. Such measurements of many chemicals in very small samples—often a teaspoon or less—of blood or urine is now possible.

Additionally wildlife scientists have monitored and recorded declines in chemicals like DDT and PCBs in certain species and increases in other chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs found in flame retardants, and perfluorinated chemicals used in the manufacture of nonstick and water repellant surfaces.

Predicting levels of toxic chemicals in people on the basis of estimates or measurements of chemicals in air, soil, water, food, or commercial products is difficult and involves making assumptions about people's personal habits and lifestyles; the {C}pharmacokinetics (that is, the absorption, distribution, {C}metabolism, and elimination) of the chemical; and the contribution of genetic factors to risk after exposure. In contrast, biomonitoring measures which chemicals—and how much—get into people. Its value lies in helping to decrease the uncertainty of assessing human exposure—and in vastly improving the ability to make timely and appropriate public health decisions.

Similar issues abound when predicting rather than measuring concentrations of chemicals in wildlife.

The {C}U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the First National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals in March 2001. It presented exposure data for 27 chemicals from the 1999 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The Second Report, released in January 2003, presented biomonitoring exposure data for 116 environmental chemicals (including the 27 in the First Report) for the noninstitutionalized, civilian U.S. population during 1999 and 2000.

The Third Report provides information about 148 chemicals and is the most extensive assessment ever of exposure of the U.S. population to environmental chemicals (see Further Reading). The Environmental Health Laboratory at the National Center for Environmental Health, CDC, conducted all measurements for the Third Report. The Third Report does not provide new health or {C}toxicity information, state- or community-specific data, specific product- or environment-related information, or regulatory guidelines or recommendations.

Further Reading

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.


Draggan, S. (2012). Biomonitoring. Retrieved from