Body burden assessments, or biological monitoring (“biomonitoring”), are the simultaneous measurement of the presence and concentration of chemical compounds or their metabolites in human biospecimens such as blood, urine, breastmilk, adipose tissue, hair, saliva and meconium. Apart from occupational exposure or other special circumstances, these compounds are usually found at levels beneath those of traditional toxicological concern.

The problem of toxic chemicals was first defined by the stories of workers exposed on the job. Shipbuilders exposed to asbestos were diagnosed with mesothelioma. Coal miners got Black Lung Disease. A higher rate of leukemia was reported in benzene-exposed rubber workers. Love Canal expanded the problem to include exposures from toxic waste sites. Now 30 years later, the measurements of the level of chemicals in people, also known as body burdens, is becoming a powerful new tool for educating ourselves about the chemicals taking up residence for short or long periods of time within our bodies.

By documenting the ubiquity and complexity of exposures that ordinary people are experiencing every day, body burden measurements shine a spotlight on the failures of current chemical regulations, and they highlight how improvements in standards can contribute positively to protecting public health. Because of the wide array of health conditions now plausibly linked by scientific research to exposure to different contaminants, body burden measurements can become a tool for those health-affected and community-based groups interested in public health advocacy.