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Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e318226a4b1
Letters to the Editor

“Exposure” Is Not Absorption

Tepper, Lloyd B. MD, ScD

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Author Information

Adjunct Professor, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA

To the Editor:

Imprecision in the use of terminology in scientific communication can lead to erroneous or ambiguous interpretations and conclusions. Discussions of the effects of potentially toxic materials often cite the consequences of “exposure” when “absorption” is the more appropriate term. Recent examples include “Toenail, Blood, and Urine as Biomarkers of Manganese Exposure” (Laohaudomchok et al), and “perchlorate exposure” in a letter to the editor (Kimbrough) in the May issue of the Journal. “Biomonitoring: Old Tools, Wave of the Future” (Fischman and Israel), a presentation at the recent American Occupational Health Conference, although otherwise highly instructive, attributed evidence contained in biomarkers to “exposure” rather than to “absorption.”

Exposure may or may not lead to physiologically significant absorption or uptake. The fraction of material absorbed as a result of exposure may vary from 0 to virtually 100%. Authors' thoughtful consideration of the meanings of “exposure” and “absorption” in communications to patients, colleagues, the scientific community, regulatory agencies, and the legal system would substantially reduce the potential for inappropriate conclusions.

Lloyd B. Tepper, MD, ScD

Adjunct Professor

Occupational and Environmental Medicine

University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA

©2011The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

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