Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry

, Volume 286, Issue 1, pp 195-210

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Is there a future for biomonitoring of elemental air pollution? A review focused on a larger-scaled health-related (epidemiological) context

  • Bert WolterbeekAffiliated withDelft University of Technology, Reactor Institute Delft, RIH Radiation and Isotopes for Health Email author 
  • , Susana SarmentoAffiliated withITN Institute
  • , Tona VerburgAffiliated withDelft University of Technology, Reactor Institute Delft, RIH Radiation and Isotopes for Health


The present paper focuses on biomonitoring of elemental atmospheric pollution, which is reviewed in terms of larger-scaled biomonitoring surveys in an epidemiological context. Based on the literature information, today’s availability of solar-powered small air filter samplers and fibrous ion exchange materials is regarded as adequate or an even better alternative for biomonitor transplant materials used in small-scaled set-ups, but biomonitors remain valuable in larger-scaled set-ups and in unforeseen releases and accidental situations. In the latter case, in-situ biomonitoring is seen as the only option for a retrospective study: biomoniors are there before one even knows that they are needed. For biomonitoring, nuclear analytical techniques are discussed as key techniques, especially because of the necessary multi-element assessments in both source recognition and single-element interpretation. To live up to the demands in an epidemiological context, larger-scaled in-situ biomonitoring asks for large numbers of samples, and consequently, for large total sample masses, this all to ensure representation of both local situations and survey area characteristics. Possibly, this point should direct studies into new “easy-to-sample” biomonitor organisms, of which high masses and numbers may be obtained in field work, rather than continue with biomonitors such as lichens. This also means that both sample handling and processing are of key importance in these studies. To avoid problems in comparability of analytical general procedures in milling, homogenization and digestion of samples of large masses, the paper proposes to involve only few but high-quality laboratories in the total element assessment routines. In this respect, facilities that can handle large sample masses in the assessment of element concentrations are to be preferred. This all highlights the involvement of large-sample-volume nuclear facilities, which, however, should be upgraded and automated in their operation to ensure the necessary sample throughput in larger-scaled biomonitoring.


Biomonitoring Element air pollution Epidemiology Health Large sample analysis Nuclear analytical techniques Survey methods

JEL classification

C83 I10 Q51 Q53