Biomonitoring Studies in the Environmental Health Division
Biomonitoring is a way to measure environmental chemicals in a person’s body. It involves collecting a person’s blood, urine, or another body fluid or tissue. The MDH Environmental Health Division conducts specific biomonitoring “studies” or “investigations”. These studies are typically done for the purposes of surveillance or to evaluate how well policies and programs protect the public from harmful chemicals.
- Tribal Community Living in the Lake Superior Basin Study
- Minnesota Children’s Pesticide Exposure Study
- Minnesota Arsenic Study (MARS) (PDF: 60KB/3 pages)
- Mercury in Newborns in the Lake Superior Basin Study
Why is biomonitoring important?
We come into contact with many chemicals in our daily lives. As a result, all of us have chemicals in our bodies. We may have more or fewer chemicals – depending on the food we eat, products we use, jobs we do, and places we live. Biomonitoring can tell us which chemicals are getting into our bodies and how much. This information can be used to:
- Track changes in chemical exposures over time
- Identify whether some groups of people are more exposed than others to specific chemicals
- Make timely and appropriate public health decisions based on human exposure
- Evaluate the effectiveness of programs and policies aimed to reduce exposures to chemicals
What are some limitations of biomonitoring?
Biomonitoring tells us the levels of chemicals in people’s bodies, but it cannot always tell us how a person may have contacted the chemicals. This is because there may be many sources of a chemical in the environment (air, food, water) and multiple ways chemicals can enter the body (breathing, swallowing, skin contact). Oftentimes, a questionnaire is used in conjunction with biomonitoring to gather information about ways a person may have contacted chemicals. For example, if measuring cadmium in blood or urine, a person may be asked if they smoke cigarettes or eat seafood, two common sources of cadmium.
For some chemicals, such as the metal lead, we have a good understanding of the level in the body that can cause health effects in people. However, scientists have studied the direct link between chemicals in the body and health effects for only a few chemicals.