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July 26, 2010

New NCSL Report Aids Legislatures Measuring Chemicals in People

Secondhand smoke in a bar. Used pharmaceuticals in tap water. Lead paint in an old home. These are a few examples of the many ways we are exposed to chemicals in our environment—in the water we drink, the air we breathe, the foods we consume and the products we use every day.

A new report by the National Conference of State Legislatures addresses options available to state legislatures trying to measure chemical exposure.  “Biomonitoring: A Best Practices Report for State Legislators” lays out policy options for lawmakers to consider when crafting biomonitoring policies and programs that attempt to determine what chemicals make their way into humans, and at what levels.

This report addresses program design and focus; protocols for data collection and use; community participation and outreach; partnerships; and how to leverage existing resources and strengthen laboratory infrastructure. The report also contains examples of state biomonitoring statutes and legislation, including legislative definitions of key terms.

Policymakers can use biomonitoring information to identify at-risk communities, target resources to areas that need them, and determine if existing public health programs are effectively reducing people’s chemical exposure.  It is an important step in understanding chemical exposures and measuring their potential health effects. Biomonitoring can help legislators answer key public health questions, including:

  • Do pesticides pose a risk to people who farm, live near farms or eat certain types of foods?
  • Are elevated drinking water contaminants accumulating in your residents?
  • Have the state’s no-smoking policies effectively reduced tobacco smoke exposure in nonsmokers?
  • Do increased levels of mercury, dioxin or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in game fish threaten a community’s health?
  • In the event of a terrorist or suspected terrorist attack, did the attackers use chemical or radiological weapons? Who was exposed and who needs medical treatment?

Several legislatures have enacted laws aimed at boosting biomonitoring activities. California and Minnesota have initiated state biomonitoring programs to assess residents’ po¬tential exposure to chemicals in their communities. In 2007, the Illinois General As¬sembly enacted legislation to study the best way to establish a permanent statewide biomoni¬toring program. Other states have considered temporary projects or programs or those that target individual chemicals or populations.

Biomonitoring: A Best Practices Report for State Legislators” is available free online to NCSL members and journalists. For further questions, please contact NCSL’s public affairs division.

NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.