DOC 044 – Guidance for the Interpretation of Biomonitoring Data


DOC 044 : Guidance for the Interpretation of Biomonitoring Data | November 2005

Measuring the levels of chemical substances in human body fluids and tissues has been in routine use in industry and parts of the wider public health community for more than 50 years. The increased availability of analytical technologies with constantly decreasing detection limits has made biomonitoring techniques both more accessible and more sensitive. However, although human biomonitoring samples may be comparatively easy to obtain and analyse, their interpretation is often difficult. Biomonitoring has many benefits, most notably in its ability to evaluate human exposures to chemicals and its potential to improve the accuracy of related health risk assessments. For any valid health risk assessment a basic knowledge and understanding of the underlying dose-effect relationships is essential. Unfortunately, this information is often lacking. Even when it is available, several other factors need to be taken into account for a valid interpretation. This report sets out the considerations that need to be applied in order that available biomonitoring data can be reliably interpreted within the context of their associated uncertainties. There are a number of considerations that enable the relevance of any biological monitoring result to be interpreted reliably. If biomonitoring information is to be used to evaluate and describe health risks, information is required on 4 key elements: a sample’s analytical integrity; the extent to which toxicokinetic considerations have been accounted for; the relevance of the data for health effects; and how the data align with other available information. This document describes the level of understanding that is necessary for each element and identifies how the application of data varies according to the level of understanding, including the relative importance of each element. The elements are then incorporated into a framework, built upon established scientific criteria, that enables any data to be evaluated with respect to the portion of the risk assessment process in which it can be reliably applied. In addition, the report identifies a number of related issues concerning the ethics of taking samples and to the communication of findings that require further discussion. The report, by nature, is intended both to offer a considered view of the available science and to serve as a catalyst for stimulating discussion on some of the broader issues presented by the application of biomonitoring technologies today. As such, ECETOC considers that the contents of this document should not only be applied, but also be used to further the discussion on the steps necessary for the better use and application of biomonitoring data.