INSIGHT: The real biomonitoring challenge

28 July 2006 16:02  [Source: ICIS news]

By Nigel Davis

LONDON (ICIS news)--The effective use of biomonitoring to help accurately assess the risk of exposure to man-made chemicals challenges scientists, policymakers and communicators alike.

The power of this new ‘lens’ through which chemicals exposure can be monitored is not doubted. The use to which it can effectively be put, is.

The America Chemistry Council (ACC), this week welcomed the latest report from a top US scientific committee on biomonitoring. Members of the National Academies of Sciences Committee on Human Biomonitoring for Environmental Toxicants, were cautious in their approach, noting the opportunities for better health protection that biomonitoring might afford but quick to point to the challenges that the use of biomonitoring presents.

The committee laid out a lengthy ‘road map’ of recommendations that will no doubt be important when it comes to guiding policy makers and others through the potential maze that biomonitoring data present.

"We believe the NAS report provides a very useful benchmark for future as well as current research efforts," Richard Becker, senior toxicologist with the ACC said. He noted in particular that the report emphasises the need to use rigorous scientific methods for sampling, evaluating and reporting biomonitoring data.

Just because we can detect something does not necessarily mean that it is bad. As all chemists understand, it is the dose that makes the poison. Getting that message across in a realistic way is the challenge facing the chemicals sector. It is not so much threatened by biomonitoring but challenged to develop strategies and a series of responses to adequately deal with the questions biomonitoring studies are bound to raise.

The NAS committee notes that repeatedly, biomonitoring data have confirmed environmental exposures and validated public-health policies. They cite population data on blood lead concentrations associated with adverse health effects which provided impetus for the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) regulatory reduction of lead in gasoline. Methyl mercury concentrations in blood and hair that correlated with adverse neurodevelopmental effects provided a rationale for the EPA’s revision of the oral reference dose.

Despite the potential value of biomonitoring, the committee acknowledges that tremendous challenges surround its use. Indeed, for most of the chemicals currently measured, the risks cannot be interpreted. Certainly the ability to detect chemicals has outpaced the ability to interpret health risks. Epidemiological, toxicological, and exposure-assessment studies have not adequately incorporated biomonitoring data. Their interpretation is difficult to say the least.

It is noteworthy that the committee believes that communicating biomonitoring results may be the most vexing challenge to the field. Currently there is no consistent biotechnology terminology. Biotechnology concepts are not yet developed. Research is needed to help determine how the results of biomonitoring studies and biomonitoring-based research are best communicated.

The implications are enormous. Understanding the uncertainty that surround biomonitoring is one thing. Helping others understand the implications on biomonitoring based research is another.


By: Nigel Davis
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