Frequently Asked Questions about Biomonitoring
On this page:
- What is biomonitoring?
- How are biomonitoring data used?
- What are limitations of biomonitoring data?
- What is a reference range?
- What is Minnesota Biomonitoring: Chemicals in People?
- What is the Strategic Plan?
- How can I learn more?
Biomonitoring tells us about people's exposure to chemicals by measuring them in blood, urine, or hair.
For example, cotinine can be measured in urine as a marker of exposure to tobacco smoke. Hundreds of chemicals are regularly measured in a sample of the U.S. population by the CDC National Biomonitoring Program.
In the broader public health context, biomonitoring data can be used to:
- Measure and track changes in chemical exposures over time
- Identify groups that are highly exposed to chemicals
- Inform and evaluate programs and policies to reduce exposures
On an individual level, biomonitoring data can be used by health care providers. For example, a provider may measure a chemical of interest (such as lead level in blood) and compare the measured level to health-based or reference ranges.
Biomonitoring is one tool available in working to better understand the relationship between the environment and people's health. Biomonitoring data provide information about the levels of chemicals in people's bodies. These data alone cannot determine how people are exposed to chemicals or the health effects associated with exposure to chemicals. To answer these questions biomonitoring must be combined with other tools, such as exposure assessments and health studies.
Biomonitoring is limited by a laboratory's ability to measure low levels of chemicals.
A reference range provides data on chemical exposure levels in a distinct, well-described population, such as the U.S. general population, to which the biomonitoring results for an individual or study can be compared. Ideally, a reference range comes from a study that was done with a scientifically rigorous design and quality control. It does not provide information on the health effects associated with any level of chemical exposure.
Reference ranges for many chemicals in the U.S. general population are available from the CDC National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals.
Established by the Minnesota Legislature in 2007 [statutes (PDF)], MN Biomonitoring measures levels of chemicals in people and whether exposures differ between groups and over time. This information is used to promote public health actions to reduce chemical exposures.
The 2007 law directed MDH to conduct four biomonitoring pilot projects in Minnesota communities. These projects have been completed, and MDH is currently conducting follow-up projects (see PFC Biomonitoring in the East Metro and Family Environmental Exposure Tracking).
MN Biomonitoring collaborates with state and federal partners, such as the MDH Public Health Laboratory and CDC National Biomonitoring Program, works in close partnership with the MN Tracking Program, and is guided by an expert Advisory Panel.
Since 2007, MN Biomonitoring and our expert Advisory Panel have worked together to develop a Strategic Plan for the future of MN Biomonitoring: Chemicals in People. Going forward, we will track exposures to chemicals in vulnerable Minnesota populations with a focus on pregnant women, children, and disadvantaged communities. We will provide data to inform decisions and evaluate actions for protecting future generations.
The Minnesota Legislature has provided 2013-2015 funding for MN Biomonitoring to conduct two projects (see PFC Biomonitoring in the East Metro and Family Environmental Exposure Tracking). To implement many elements in this strategic plan, MDH will need additional resources to support sample collection, data analysis, and community involvement.