Human biomonitoring (HBM) detects hazardous substances or their metabolic products in body fluids. It enables the quantities of hazardous substances actually absorbed by an individual to be determined, and inthe case of substances ubiquitous in the environment, the occupational and non-occupational exposures to the substance to be differentiated.
HBM is growing in importance as a means of characterizing hazardous substance exposures at the workplace, and also environmental exposures. Its major advantage is that in contrast to ambient monitoring, it characterizes the actual personal exposure through all possible routes of uptake (inhalative, dermal, oral).
HBM has developed into an important component of preventive occupational medical care and now forms part of the German ordinances on hazardous substances (GefStoffV) and on Occupational Health Care (ArbMedVV).
Depending upon the elimination kinetics of individual metabolic products, HBM often permits conclusions not only regarding exposure to hazardous substances occurring in the very recent past, i.e. in the order of hours or during the last working shift (short-time markers), but also regarding the average exposure over the preceding days and months (long-time markers).
Against this background, HBM methods that measure several metabolic products of a hazardous substance simultaneously are frequently used in studies at the IPA, thereby enabling the most comprehensive picture possible of the exposure situation and the potential hazard resulting from it to be obtained. In the studies of the metabolism, new, specific metabolites for hazardous substances currently being discussed are continually being identified, studied with regard to their metabolization and excretion kinetics, and established as new biomarkers.
The spectrum of HBM methods has consequently been extended progressively in recent years with regard to issues of importance to the accident insurance institutions. This applies to the areas of organic trace analysis and metal trace analysis. The sensitivity of the methods enables not only workplace exposure to be determined reliably, but also the environmental background exposure of the general population, and the two to be differentiated from each other.
In all methods, the strictest standards are placed upon the reliability and integrity of the analysis results, in addition to the requirement for scientific relevance.
The integrity of the results is guaranteed by thorough quality assurance within the laboratory and by participation in external quality assurance programs, such as round-robin tests. At the same time, the IPA‘s HBM laboratory serves as a reference laboratory for several providers of round-robin tests and for providers of certified control material. The IPA actively contributes its experience in the areas of method development, establishment of biomarkers and quality assurance to national and international research projects.