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What is Biomonitoring?

Biomonitoring as a method in occupational medicine

The term biomonitoring is used in both occupational and environmental health and the fields of environmental monitoring and ecology. In the following, biomonitoring is defined in the context of occupational medicine and differentiated from the term human biomonitoring.

Here are some definitions of biomonitoring:

On the basis of the Ordinance on Occupational Health Care (ArbMedVV) in the Occupational Health Regulation (AMR) 6.2 “Biomonitoring", the Occupational Medicine Committee (AfAMed) in the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) provides the following definition:

"Biomonitoring is the examination of biological materials of employees for the determination of hazardous substances, their metabolites or their biochemical and/or biological effect parameters. In this respect, the goal is to assess the exposure and health risk posed to employees, to compare the analysis values obtained with appropriate assessment values [...] and to propose suitable measures for reducing the levels of exposure and the risks posed to health. The findings from the biomonitoring can be an important source of information for the assessment of the existing protective measures."

In its guidelines on occupational medicine, the German Society for Occupational and Environmental Medicine e.V. (DGAUM) defines the term "Biomonitoring" as follows:

"In the area of occupational medicine, biomonitoring is to be understood as the examination of biological materials of employees for the quantitative determination of hazardous substances, their metabolites or their biochemical and/or biological parameters. In this respect, the goal is to assess the exposure and health risk posed to employees, to compare the analysis values obtained with appropriate biological assessment values and to propose possible suitable measures (improvement of technical, organisational and personal prevention) for reducing the risks posed to health. For many hazardous substances, the individual levels of exposure can only be quantified and assessed with the use of biomonitoring."

According to § 6 para. 2 of the Ordinance on Occupational Healthcare (ArbMedVV), biomonitoring is considered as a "component of occupational healthcare insofar as processes of analysis recognised by occupational healthcare and suitable values are available for assessment purposes."

The "Biomonitoring" occupational medicine rule specifies the ArbmedVV:

"The indication and method of the biomonitoring is decided by the officiating doctor according to § 7 ArbMedVV. The doctor has to evaluate the findings from the biomonitoring. While maintaining medical confidentiality, the findings can be included in the employers' risk assessment."

What is human biomonitoring?

The methods used in the area of human biomonitoring are similar to those used in occupational medicine biomonitoring. In this respect, individuals' exposures to chemicals are determined and the biological effects caused by chemical substances are also measured. The areas of use and the goals differ, however.

The Human Biomonitoring Commission of the Federal Environment Agency defines three areas in which human biomonitoring is used:

  1. the targeted examination of individuals who are subject to exposure by hazardous substances or biological or physical influences, or among whom such exposure is to be suspected;
  2. the quantitative determination of the internal exposure to pollution by selected persons or population groups in the scope of epidemiological studies;
  3. research into the identification of developmental trends and/or the exposure of people to harmful substances or biological and physical factors in certain regions.

The harmful substances examined here, however, do not originate from occupational exposure on the part of those under examination, but exposure in the living environment.

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