The possible benefits of biological monitoring of large groups of people potentially exposed to environmental contaminants has become an area of much interest in recent years. Because chromite-ore processing residue has been found in some soils in northern New lersey, urinary chromium monitoring of people in the community was evaluated as a potentially useful tool. In an attempt to identify those who could be exposed and to quantify the magnitude of exposure to the chromium in these soils, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) initiated a public health screening project. In 1992, the NJDOH proposed to evaluate over 4000 people who lived or worked near these sites. Volunteers were administered a questionnaire and were given a limited physical examination, and a single spot urine sample was collected. Because of the difficulties in using urinary chromium to assess low-level exposure and the potential implications of any regulatory decisions that could be based on the results of this project, a panel of experts was convened to evaluate the protocol. The panel consisted of five scientists and physicians with expertise in toxicology, dermatology, epidemiology, biological monitoring, and analytical chemistry. Like a World Health Organization group, the panel concluded that although urine biomonitoring can be useful in evaluating high levels of exposure to chromium, it is not reliable for assessing low-level exposure similar to that which may have occurred in northern New Jersey. The panel also noted that when urinary biomoni-toring is to be used to assess the public’s possible exposure, a large number of precautions must be taken to ensure the accuracy and usefulness of the results. The single most important recommendation was to collect a second, and perhaps a third, spot urine (or 24-h urine) sample before concluding that a person may be routinely overexposed. These suggestions are applicable to designing a biomonitoring program for nearly any environmental contaminant to which a community may be exposed. A review of scientific literature associated with biological monitoring of chromium is provided.
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