New Mexico Biomonitoring

In the Land of Enchantment we take pride in our diverse culture and gorgeous landscapes. With our beautiful settings ranging from cottonwood-lined rivers and chile pepper fields to colorful canyons and high mountain peaks, there are also sources of potential exposures to naturally-occurring chemicals. Exposures can also occur through human activities. For example, our mineral-rich rocks and soils can be used for mining, which can affect domestic wells. Agriculture and urban development introduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers. Beyond our environment, as consumers we have an array of personal-care and household products to choose from. It is hard to know what all this means for exposures to our bodies. For this reason, we utilize biomonitoring to develop evidence- and science-based knowledge about these exposures. Then, we can use this knowledge to respond to current and future public health concerns of New Mexicans and the Four Corners region.

Biomonitoring in New Mexico is a unique opportunity to learn about some potential environmental exposures to New Mexicans. Understanding the amounts of chemicals present in the bodies of most people in our state and region allows for comparisons of ourselves to the general U.S. population. Furthermore, it helps reveal when exposures might be excessive (too high), and therefore of potential public health concern. More importantly, these science-based data can empower communities, advocates, and policy makers to influence public health policies and efforts to reduce excessive exposures and mitigate public health concerns.

The New Mexico Biomonitoring Program has been investigating environmental exposures in communities statewide in various capacities since 2003. These investigations involve measuring amounts of chemicals in human bodies through laboratory analysis of urine. Through working with the Four Corners States Biomonitoring Consortium (4CSBC) we will be able to further develop our capacity to conduct environmental exposure assessments through biomonitoring studies, and investigate regional exposure concerns.

To begin, we conducted a study to investigate how potential exposures to metals through drinking water could relate to the amount of these metals in an individual’s body. The study has focused in areas of the state where there is a high prevalence of domestic wells, and where we have observed increased occurrence of mineral deposits or levels of metals in the environment. Only adults (18 years and older) are eligible to participate.

All study participants provide a urine sample and answer questions about their everyday exposure to chemicals from various sources, including dietary sources. The urine specimens are analyzed by chemists at the Scientific Laboratory Division of the New Mexico Department of Health in Albuquerque, NM. Through this analysis we learn about how much of a certain chemical is present in an individual’s body at a given time. These tests can help determine if participants were exposed to higher than ‘average/normal’ levels of chemicals of interest at the time of testing. However, these tests cannot be used to predict if these exposures will result in health effects.

Participants answer environmental exposure questions in an exposure assessment questionnaire/survey. This helps explain where the measured chemical levels in their body are likely coming from, such as hobbies, for example. Another major component of New Mexico’s biomonitoring study is to include an environmental sampling and assessment of water quality from domestic wells. This is done through laboratory analysis of well-water samples for the six metals of interest (arsenic, cadmium, manganese, mercury, selenium, and uranium). Testing of water from domestic wells offers more information about potential sources of excessive exposures to those metals. It also provides a valuable and needed service to participants and communities so they can learn about their water quality, and if needed, consider actions to control exposures.

Investigating potential exposures to metals in drinking water will continue in different communities statewide. We will also be conducting other studies to include investigating potential exposure to: 1) phthalates and other chemicals from the use of plastics and some consumer products, and 2) chemicals used in some pesticides.

Integral partners in our program are the New Mexico Department of Health’s Private Well Program, the New Mexico Environmental Public Health Tracking Program, and the New Mexico Environment Department. For the past several years these programs have conducted well-water sampling events throughout the state. The data collected from these events direct the Biomonitoring Program towards potential communities to include, and provide a starting point for participant recruitment. We also work hard to collaborate with local governmental agencies and community coalitions in the recruitment and samples collection processes.

We are very grateful to all our past, current, and future biomonitoring participants. Without your participation these efforts would be impossible, and the state and region would be missing out on an important opportunity to learn about New Mexicans exposure to chemicals in our environment.

To find out more about current and past studies in the state; or if you are a current participant, or would like to volunteer, please visit our webpage: NM EPHT Environmental Exposure Data: Biomonitoring

Last Update: April 1, 2016