Frequently Asked Questions about Biomonitoring
On this page:
- What is biomonitoring?
- How are biomonitoring data used?
- What are common reference ranges for chemicals in the general U.S. population?
- What are limitations of biomonitoring data?
- What is the Minnesota Biomonitoring Program?
- What is the Framework for an Ongoing Biomonitoring Program?
- How can I learn more?
Biomonitoring is the direct measurement of chemicals (or the products that chemicals break down into) in people's body fluids or tissues. The most commonly used biomonitoring samples are blood, urine, and hair.
Examples of biomonitoring data include measures of lead in blood and cotinine in urine as a marker of exposure to tobacco smoke. Hundreds of chemicals are routinely measured in the blood and urine of a sample of US citizens through the CDC National Biomonitoring Program.
In the broader public health context, biomonitoring data can be used to:
- Monitor levels of chemicals in the population or specific communities and to track changes in exposure over time
- Identify populations who are most at risk for exposure to chemicals
- Target or evaluate programs and interventions to reduce exposures to chemicals
- Evaluate the effectiveness of programs and policies aimed to protect public health
On an individual level, biomonitoring data may be used by health care providers in routine clinical practice. For example, in some situations or circumstances, a provider may measure for a chemical of interest, such as lead levels in blood, and compare the measured level to health-based or reference ranges in the general population.
Reference ranges for many chemicals are available from the CDC National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals.
In addition, reference ranges are available at Chemicals in People: Biomonitoring.
Biomonitoring is one tool available in working to better understand the relationship between the environment and people's health. Biomonitoring data only provide information about the levels of chemicals in people's bodies. Biomonitoring data alone cannot determine how people are exposed to chemicals or the health effects associated with exposure to chemicals. Biomonitoring must be combined with other tools, such as an exposure assessment or health study, in order to answer those questions.
Biomonitoring is most effective when combined with other tools -- such as disease surveillance, risk assessment, environmental monitoring, laboratory services, medicine, and Environmental Public Health Tracking.
The Minnesota Biomonitoring Program at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) was established by the Minnesota Legislature in 2007 (Minnesota Statutes). The Program measures levels of certain chemicals and how the levels change over time in Minnesotans to promote healthy choices and protect future generations. In addition, the Program with input from stakeholders and an expert Advisory Panel has developed a: Framework for an Ongoing Biomonitoring Program
The Program 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 Environmental Public Health Tracking Program, and is guided by recommendations of an expert Advisory Panel.
The 2007 law directed MDH to conduct four biomonitoring projects in Minnesota communities, and MDH is completing follow-up projects of perfluorochemical (PFC) and mercury exposures. The 2011 apppropriation from the MN Legislature made state funding for the program a one-time appropriation set to expire in June 2013.
Since 2007 the Minnesota Biomonitoring Program and our expert Advisory Panel have worked together to develop the framework for an ongoing biomonitoring program. For more about the vision, purpose, and strategies that were developed, see Protecting Future Generations: A Framework for an Ongoing Biomonitoring Program.
The 2011 appropriation from the MN Legislature for Minnesota's Biomonitoring Program made state funding a one-time appropriation set to expire in June 2013. To implement elements in this Framework, MDH will need additional resources to support sample collection, data analysis, and community involvement.