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New Perspectives released on Biomonitoring: The Chemicals Within Us

Biomonitoring Literacy: What People Need to Know and How to Explain It

Growing evidence points to chemical exposure as a significant risk factor for many chronic diseases. Young children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to these risks. Some chemicals, including lead and mercury, can cause brain damage and developmental problems in children. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as pesticides and flame retardants may cause developmental and reproductive problems. And some chemicals can increase the risk of chronic illnesses such as cancer or heart disease later in life.

Biomonitoring measures the amount of a chemical in blood, urine, or other body fluids and tissues. In the September issue of Perspectives from UC Berkeley, environmental health and health communication experts urge the expansion of national and statewide biomonitoring programs. They discuss the use of best practices in health literacy to inform the public about this complex technology.

The article—Biomonitoring: The Chemicals Within Us—discusses the value of biomonitoring in protecting public health. Scientists can use biomonitoring results to help investigate possible links between chemicals and disease, and to identify communities at higher risk from chemical exposures. Results can also help in developing chemical policies and regulatory programs to prevent exposure to harmful chemicals.

The authors discuss challenges in explaining the uses and limitations of biomonitoring to project participants and the general public, as well as policymakers and other opinion leaders. They offer strategies to improve "biomonitoring literacy," an important way to increase support for public policies that focus on primary prevention.

Perspectives is published by Health Research for Action, a center in the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health. Health Research for Action specializes in research, communications, and policy development to reduce health disparities and improve population health.

September 2011