The use of mammals as sentinels for human exposure to toxic contaminants in the environment

D. J. O'Brien, J. B. Kaneene, Robert H Poppenga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


The use of sentinel species shows the potential to bridge the gap between animal-based and human-based environmental health research. With regard to the assessment of environmental contamination, the use of the terms 'indicator,' 'monitor,' and 'sentinel' has often been confusing and ambiguous. A set of definitions is proposed as a standard to rectify this situation. The advantages of the use of sentinel species are provided, as well as criteria for sentinel selection, based on species characteristics. The recent use of mammals as sentinels for human exposure to toxic environmental contaminants is reviewed. A tabulated review of mammals proposed as indicators or monitors is included, as these may act as a database for the selection of sentinel species for future research efforts. The complexity and subtlety of factors interacting between an organism and its environment make it imperative that one provide a focused definition of what one wants the sentinel to assess and for what particular aspect of human health. Some examples of how sentinels might be selected for particular research questions are provided. While the potential for sentinel use in the field of environmental health is enormous, future investigators need to choose sentinels carefully, based on well-defined research questions, and confine conclusions drawn to the particular problem the sentinel was chosen to assess.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-368
Number of pages18
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
StatePublished - 1993
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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