The sole U.S. program for monitoring toxic residues in the human body is badly outdated and must be overhauled if the nation is to better understand the health threat posed by chemical contamination, an expert panel said.

The National Academy of Sciences panel said Monday while the National Human Monitoring Program was "critically necessary" to assessing public health risk from toxic chemicals, it had deteriorated due to neglect and underfunding."The program is now more than 20 years old," said the nine-member panel in a new report. "It has not aged or developed gracefully. The lack of innovation and leadership over the years has resulted in a program that is out of date and only partially fulfills its objectives."

At the same time, the panel said those objectives remained vitally important and that the government ought to give high priority to restoring and improving the program.

The panel noted the program represented the only U.S. effort to document actual human exposure to toxic contamination, even though such information was essential to determining the health impact of industrial chemicals.

"During our work, the panel was repeatedly surprised by the gaps between the needs for data from human tissue monitoring and the limited scope of current activities to fill those needs," said the panel, composed of nine public health and environmental experts.

"Other countries, most notably Germany, have far more extensive human tissue monitoring activities," it added. "In the United States, the right kind of program could generate data of great value to numerous and diverse users."