Uses of NHANES Biomarker Data for Chemical Risk Assessment: Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities

Each year, the U.S. NHANES measures hundreds of chemical biomarkers in samples from thousands of study participants. These biomarker measurements are used to establish population reference ranges, track exposure trends, identify population subsets with elevated exposures, and prioritise research needs. There is now interest in further utilising the NHANES data to inform chemical risk assessments. This study highlights the extent to which U.S. NHANES chemical biomarker data have been evaluated, groups of chemicals that have been studied, data analysis approaches and challenges, and opportunities for using these data to inform risk assessments. A literature search (1999-2013) was performed to identify publications in which U.S. NHANES data were reported. Manual curation identified only the subset of publications that clearly utilised chemical biomarker data. This subset was evaluated for chemical groupings, data analysis approaches, and overall trends. A small percentage of the sampled NHANES-related publications reported on chemical biomarkers (8% yearly average). Of eleven chemical groups, metals/metalloids were most frequently evaluated (49%), followed by pesticides (9%) and environmental phenols (7%). Studies of multiple chemical groups were also common (8%). Publications linking chemical biomarkers to health metrics have increased dramatically in recent years. New studies are addressing challenges related to NHANES data interpretation in health risk contexts. The authors concluded that this study demonstrates growing use of NHANES chemical biomarker data in studies that can impact risk assessments. Best practices for analysis and interpretation must be defined and adopted to allow the full potential of the NHANES to be realised.

Authors: Sobus JR, DeWoskin RS, Tan YM, Pleil JD, Phillips MB, George BJ, Christensen K, Schreinemachers DM, Williams MA, Cohen Hubal EA, Edwards SW. ;