Journal out on assessing exposure to chem agents

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Journal of Analytical Toxicology have collaborated on a special issue devoted to assessing human exposure to chemical agents.

The edition (available at highlights new methods using state-of-the-art instruments to measure low- level exposure to chemicals.

The chemicals agents include those that might be used by terrorists, such as nerve agents, sulfur mustard agents, and cyanide compounds. The issue also provides detailed animal-exposure information and reference values for assessing potential human exposure.

"Exposure to chemical agents is a relatively modern concern, and the literature base describing methods for detecting exposure is scant," says John Barr, PhD, a CDC research chemist and guest editor of the journal.

"This research is the most complete compilation of methods and data related to biomonitoring for chemical agents," he explains.

The 15 journal articles will serve as a preview of new techniques and methods that have been developed and are used by the National Biomonitoring Program (NBP), which is part of CDC’s Environmental Health Laboratory.

The program specializes in measuring toxic substances or their metabolites in human specimens, such as blood or urine. NBP has developed methods to measure about 300 environmental chemicals from two to three tubes of blood and a regular urine sample.

In a chemical event, biomonitoring data provide information about the extent of exposure in a given individual and the proportion of a population affected by the exposure. The methods described in the journal will be used to identify people who need treatment, those at risk of developing long-term health effects or delayed health effects, and those who are worried that they may have been exposed to a chemical agent. The methods also will be used to assist in other disciplines such as forensics.

"The methods described in these manuscripts will primarily be useful for forensic applications, but also for crisis management — identification of the affected for treatment — or consequence management — differentiation of the worried well from those at risk of developing long-term or delayed health effects — following a chemical emergency," Barr wrote in an accompanying editorial.1


1. Barr JR. Editorial: Biological monitoring of human exposure to chemical warfare agents. J Analy Tox 2004: 28;305.