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Human biomonitoring studies

Human biomonitoring identifies and measures chemicals that have built up in our bodies over time as a result of environmental exposure. Scientists use blood, hair, urine, breast milk or other tissue samples to test for the presence of specific chemicals in our bodies.

  • Our perspective

    At the Society, we believe in the importance of Canada-wide human biomonitoring programs and that they should be maintained to track and analyze our exposure to harmful chemicals over time.

  • Benefits of human biomonitoring

    Human biomonitoring studies gather important data for research that helps governments and policy-makers understand our exposure to potentially harmful chemicals and manage the potential health risks caused by exposure to these chemicals in our environment.

    The information that human biomonitoring programs collect can be used to:

    • identify chemicals that are present in our bodies 
    • identify groups of people that have higher levels of exposure 
    • check if efforts to reduce exposure to certain chemicals are working 
    • identify areas for future research 

    Understanding risk
    Research shows that exposure to some chemicals can lead to cancer, birth defects, problems in a child’s development and heart and breathing problems. Some chemicals can also cause hormonal changes in your body that can lead to disease.

    Biomonitoring studies can identify if:

    • Strictly controlled or banned chemicals are still in our environment or in our bodies. 
    • Some chemicals are able to be passed from mother to child inside the womb and through breast milk. 
    • Vulnerable groups of people, such as children and pregnant women, are at risk of becoming ill from exposure to chemicals in the environment. 

    Informing decisions and further research
    If a chemical is found in the body, it does not necessarily mean that it will cause a disease.

    Tracking exposure over time through biomonitoring helps researchers and policy-makers:

    • identify changes in exposure 
    • understand the link between exposure of certain chemicals and the development of disease 
    • decide on policies that are needed to better control exposures to certain chemicals 
  • Suggested links for more information

    Canadian biomonitoring initiatives
    Learn more about biomonitoring studies being conducted in Canada, including a large study to measure levels of environmental chemicals in Canadians (the Canadian Health Measures Survey), a study of environmental chemical exposure among pregnant women and their babies, and studies of exposure to contaminants among Canada’s First Nations communities on reserves and in northern climates.

    Government of Canada: Chemical substances – National biomonitoring initiatives
    Statistics Canada – Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS)

    US biomonitoring initiatives
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been studying and reporting on the general US population’s exposure to toxic substances from the environment through biomonitoring since 2001.

    CDC – National Biomonitoring Program
    CDC – National report on human exposure to environmental chemicals

    European biomonitoring initiatives
    The European Commission developed its biomonitoring initiative in 2004.

    European Commission – European Human Biomonitoring

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