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What is Human Biomonitoring?

Biomonitoring in the US and Responses

Bioethical Controversies

California's Biomonitoring Program

California Controversies

Future of Biomonitoring

Links and Resources

Comments and Questions to:



Biomonitoring in the US and Responses

The History

Human biomonitoring programs gained recognition and legitimacy as effective indicators of public health and unhealth with the successful monitoring and remediation of lead poisoning in children in the 1970's. Through monitoring lead levels in the blood of children, environmental and public health advocates were able to successfully prove that eliminating lead from gasoline had the near immediate effect of reducing lead levels in children. Early biomonitoring programs generally targeted one or two known toxics, seeking to show how marginalized groups (e.g. children, people of color, and the working class) bear a disproportionate amount of the negative health consequences of our nation's chemical dependency.

As testing for other chemicals and substances, both human-made and naturally occurring, has become increasingly easier, biomonitoring has remained a tool used by activists to push for increased regulation of toxics. Additionally, biomonitoring has become a tool used by citizens suffering from exposure to toxics to force industrial produces, users, and polluters of toxics to cover the costs clean-up and treatment (Biomonitoring Briefing Paper, 2006).

Current biomonitoring programs are pushing the limits of biomonitoring programs, calling for the testing of hundreds of chemicals and substances and recording even the smallest amounts of known toxics. The CDC and state of California 's biomonitoring programs also establish a change in the human scale of testing. Whereas earlier programs focused on smaller, geographically connected and marginalized communities, newer programs are attempting to monitor a wide range of geographically and situationally disconnected people (CDC and CDHS).

The investment banker and the factory worker are tested alongside suburban children and urban teenagers. Newer programs test the effects of everyday situations and foods, attempting to see if chemicals and other substances are not just part of the lives of the marginalized.



CDC's National Biomonitoring Program

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been testing human bodies for the presence of chemicals and other substances for nearly three decades. Starting in 1999, and every two years since, the CDC tests a random and representative selection of United States residents for the presence of chemicals and other substances. The most recent report, released in 2005 tested for 148 substances.

Additionally the CDC's National Biomonitoring Program offers grants to states and consortiums of states to implement short term biomonitoring programs. Generally these state and consortium directed programs have focused on specific substances and areas. The California Biomonitoring Plan, the document used as the foundation for California 's biomonitoring program, was produced in 2003 with a grant from the CDC.

Link: CDC's National Biomonitoring Program



Boston Consensus Conference on Biomonitoring

In December of 2006, a conference of citizens representing the diverse population of Massachusetts was convened to discuss human biomonitoring by the Boston University School of Public Health and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Health. The conference met for three weekends and produced, after two days of deliberation, a consensus statement and policy recommendation for the state of Massachusetts .

The conference was created because Massachusetts politicians and scientists realized that, despite the rapid growth of the biomonitoring field and very likely consequences this growth will have on everyday people, debates concerning the future and implementation of this technology were primarily limited to scientists and politicians. The Consensus Conference aimed to give ‘lay people a voice in this important problem' (‘p 10, Briefing Paper, Consensus Conference).

The consensus statement produced by the Consensus Conference offered recommendations for ethical and easily understandable biomonitoring programs. Specifically the lay panel suggested that effective and accountable biomonitoring programs must aim to educate corporations and governments in more sustainable behavior, educate the general public about biomonitoring, and address ethics, confidentiality, and disclosure of results. The statement concluded, affirming the necessity of public policy on biomonitoring:,

We believe that public policy should play a key role in guiding biomonitoring efforts and the use of the data they generate. Specifically, it should offer the guidelines within which biomonitoring surveillance programs are conducted. Then, once the data from these programs are available, public policy should provide the framework for translating the results into meaningful actions. (p7, Consensus Statement, Consensus Conference)

Link: Boston Consensus Conference



America's Chemical Makers

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), an organization of business involved in chemical production and research, states that it supports the CDC's work on human biomonitoring. A press release soon after the publication of the CDC's 2005 report, “Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals,” states that,

America's chemical makers support a balanced approach to biomonitoring that uses validated methods developed by the CDC, relies on independent scientific groups (such as the National Academy of Sciences) to help society understand how to interpret and use biomonitoring information and communicates this information in an appropriate context.

Researchers in this scientific area echo the CDC's caution that: ‘Just because people have an environmental chemical in their blood or urine does not mean that the chemical causes disease….Small amounts may be of no health consequence, whereas larger amounts may cause adverse health effects.' Therefore the CDC data must be viewed in context and used responsibly. (“America 's Chemical Makers…”, ACC)

The press release ends with an affirmation of the life giving and life prolonging benefits given to billions by chemicals.

In August, 2006, the ACC formally removed its opposition to California 's Biomonitoring Program, just one month before the proposed program became law. The Acc citing recent amendments to the bill as the reason for this position change. These amendments, according the ACC, establish the “foundation for [a] sound scientific approach” (ACC, 2006) and guarantee appropriate review and contextualization of all findings.

Link: American Chemistry Council on the CDC's Biomonitoring Program,

Link: American Chemistry Council on California's Biomonitoring Program



Green Chemistry

Increased knowledge of the pervasiveness of chemicals in human bodies and the environment has also motivated recent efforts to reduce and eliminate the use of harmful substances. Green chemistry, one such effort, attempts to use chemistry to reduce pollution and to develop non-toxic chemicals and chemical production processes.

12 principles of green chemistry were outlined in Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice (1998) and are available online at the Environmental Protection Agency's website. These 12 principles include:

Prevent waste: Design chemical syntheses to prevent waste, leaving no waste to treat or clean up.

Design safer chemicals and products: Design chemical products to be fully effective, yet have little or no toxicity.

Design less hazardous chemical syntheses: Design syntheses to use and generate substances with little or no toxicity to humans and the environment.

Use renewable feedstocks: Use raw materials and feedstocks that are renewable rather than depleting. Renewable feedstocks are often made from agricultural products or are the wastes of other processes; depleting feedstocks are made from fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas, or coal) or are mined.

Use catalysts, not stoichiometric reagents: Minimize waste by using catalytic reactions. Catalysts are used in small amounts and can carry out a single reaction many times. They are preferable to stoichiometric reagents, which are used in excess and work only once.

Avoid chemical derivatives: Avoid using blocking or protecting groups or any temporary modifications if possible. Derivatives use additional reagents and generate waste.

Maximize atom economy: Design syntheses so that the final product contains the maximum proportion of the starting materials. There should be few, if any, wasted atoms.

Use safer solvents and reaction conditions: Avoid using solvents, separation agents, or other auxiliary chemicals. If these chemicals are necessary, use innocuous chemicals.

Increase energy efficiency: Run chemical reactions at ambient temperature and pressure whenever possible.

Design chemicals and products to degrade after use: Design chemical products to break down to innocuous substances after use so that they do not accumulate in the environment.

Analyze in real time to prevent pollution: Include in-process real-time monitoring and control during syntheses to minimize or eliminate the formation of byproducts.

Minimize the potential for accidents: Design chemicals and their forms (solid, liquid, or gas) to minimize the potential for chemical accidents including explosions, fires, and releases to the environment.

Link: EPA Green Chemistry Program











Image 4. Empty beakers.











Image 5. Close-up of blood, oil immersion 1200x magnification.








Image 6. Landfill.
















Image 7. Empty test tubes.












Image 8. Toxic waste stored near St. Louis.




Last updated:  May, 2007


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