Biomonitoring. Using Living Organisms to Track Complex Pollutants.
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Biomonitoring, the use of living organisms to monitor the effect of pollutants, is an evolving way to identify whether complex chemicals in today's environment are causing health risks to humans and other animals. At least three advantages are immediately apparent: 1) Biomonitoring may detect chemicals for which standard numeric criteria have not been developed and may describe health risks caused by a number of chemicals in combination; 2) It is able to detect toxic and sublethal effects, even when the concentrations of the chemical causing the damage are below analytical limits; and 3) Biomonitoring and bioassays may tell us about the damage contaminants cause to living organisms in terms of mortality, mutations, increased incidence of cancers, and other symptoms. Bioassays may become useful tools to predict the effect of pollutants on living organisms, to determine the extent of mutations that have occurred, and to rank hazardous waste and Superfund sites to prioritize cleanup efforts.