• While physicians use biological markers, or biomarkers, found in body fluids and tissues
to diagnose or treat patients, environmental health researchers often use biomarkers
to quantify exposure to environmental contaminants, to examine the effects of
contaminants, and to determine the susceptibility of individuals to contaminants.
• Environmental health researchers increasingly rely on biomarkers to:
o Identify whether a person’s symptoms are caused by exposure to a contaminant.
o Develop reference ranges for contaminants (i.e. variations commonly found
during measurement) for research purposes.
o Identify communities that have been contaminated by industrial pollutants.
o Provide an integrated measure of dose.
o Conduct surveillance and identify trends in exposures.
o Test the efficacy or benefit of various prevention efforts.
• Research using biomarkers has already helped improve our understanding of how
environmental contaminants, like methyl mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls and tobacco,
elevate the risk for certain diseases or disorders. The use of biomarkers is increasing
and they will provide many more opportunities to investigate, prevent, diagnose, and
treat diseases and disabilities related to environmental contaminants.