Scientists today can detect even minute levels of many substances in the body through tools such as biomonitoring. In conjunction with other organizations, ACC supports research to develop scientific tools to interpret this information and what it may mean to public health.
Scientists have long understood that our bodies can absorb substances present in our environment. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is able to measure more than 200 substances, from naturally occurring compounds to food nutrients to products of modern chemistry.
CDC notes that the detection of a substance does not by itself indicate a safety concern. Biomonitoring helps improve our understanding of exposure and—with more research—how the human body interacts with the environment. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reports that “tremendous challenges surround the use of biomonitoring, and our ability to generate biomonitoring data has exceeded our ability to interpret what the data mean…” NAS has recommended exploring specific research areas to improve interpretation and communication of biomonitoring results.
Despite these caveats, some interest groups have claimed that biomonitoring results indicate harm to public health.
To help interpret biomonitoring data, environmental health professionals are developing “biomonitoring equivalents” (BEs) for many substances, a tool that draws on existing safety information from regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Health Canada. BEs can indicate whether the amount of a substance measured in a study is of low, medium, or high concern; inform whether there is a need for additional studies on how exposures occur or potential health effects; and help identify situations where additional chemical management or product stewardship activities may need to be considered. BEs are one way to provide the public health context about biomonitoring that is needed to make sound, science-based policy decisions.
ACC’s Policy Position
CDC’s biomonitoring program can contribute to a stronger scientific understanding of chemicals, and when used in conjunction with tools such as biomonitoring equivalents, can enable more informed policy decisions.
ACC supports well-designed and scientifically robust biomonitoring programs like the CDC’s.
ACC supports research to enhance the scientific understanding of the relationship between exposure to substances and safety.
Since biomonitoring determines only that exposure to a substance has occurred, it must not be interpreted and used on its own as a demonstration of harm to human health.
ACC supports the development and use of scientific tools such as biomonitoring equivalents to help interpret and communicate the significance of biomonitoring results in a public health context.