Temporal Trends in Phthalate Exposures: Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2001-2010

By Zota, Ami R.; Calafat, Antonia M. et al. | Environmental Health Perspectives, March 2014 | Go to article overview

Temporal Trends in Phthalate Exposures: Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2001-2010


Zota, Ami R., Calafat, Antonia M., Woodruff, Tracey J., Environmental Health Perspectives


Introduction

Phthalate acid esters, also known as phthalates, are the predominant type of plasticizer used around the world. Low-molecular-weight phthalates, such as diethyl phthalate (DEP), di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP), and diisobutyl phthalate (DiBP), are used in personal care products, solvents, adhesives, and medications [Kelley et al. 2012; Koniecki et al. 2011; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 2012]. High-molecular-weight phthalates, such as butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP), di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), diisononyl phthalate (DiNP), and diisodecyl phthalate (DiDP), are primarily used as plasticizers in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) applications found in building materials, cables and wires, toys, and food packaging (Schecter et al. 2013; Stringer et al. 2000; U.S. EPA 2012) (Table 1).

Phthalates are not chemically bound to products and are therefore released into the environment where they may enter the human body via ingestion, inhalation, and dermal absorption (Meeker et al. 2009). Urinary metabolites of DEP, DnBP, BBzP, and DEHP have been widely detected in the U.S. population since 1999-2000, when phthalate metabolites were first systematically quantified in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2013; Silva et al. 2004; Woodruff et al. 2011]. Higher concentrations of some phthalate metabolites have been documented in certain sociodemographic subpopulations, including children (Koch et al. 2004; Wittassek et al. 2011), females (Silva et al. 2004; Trasande et al. 2013), nonwhite populations (Kobrosly et al. 2012; Trasande et al. 2013), and those of lower socioeconomic status (Kobrosly et al. 2012).

In animal studies, phthalates exhibit marked differences in toxicity depending on their chemical structure and timing of the exposure (Foster 2005; Gray et al. 2000; Howdeshell et al. 2008; National Research Council 2008; Parks et al. 2000). In utero exposure to certain phthalates, including BBzP, DnBP, and DEHP but not others (e.g., DEP), during the sexual differentiation period of rat development leads to reproductive tract malformations in androgen- and insulin-like 3 (INSL3)-dependent tissues (Barlow and Foster 2003; McKinnell et al. 2005; Wilson et al. 2004). Human epidemiologic studies have reported associations between exposure to DnBP, BBzP, and some other phthalates and adverse male reproductive outcomes, including reduced sperm quality, increased sperm DNA damage, and altered male genital development (Hauser et al. 2006, 2007; Meeker et al. 2009; Swan et al. 2005). Other studies have reported associations between gestational exposures to phthalates, including DEP, DnBP, BBzP, and DEHP, and outcomes suggesting impaired behavioral development (Braun et al. 2013; Engel et al. 2009; Swan et al. 2010; Whyatt et al. 2012).

Given the scientific community and public's concern over phthalate toxicity, the European Union (EU) has banned the use of certain phthalates in toys, food-containing materials, and cosmetics (EU 2004, 2005, 2007). The U.S. federal government enacted legislation in 2008 that bans the use of DnBP, BBzP, and DEHP in any amount > 0.1% in child care articles including toys and placed an interim restriction on DiNP, DiDP, and di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP) in toys that can be put in a child's mouth [Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) 2008; U.S. EPA 2012]. Although phthalate content in other products is not subject to legislative oversight in the United States, environmental and public health organizations have sought to reduce phthalate exposure by advocating for the removal of phthalates from personal care products and educating the public about how to find potentially safer alternatives (Campaign for Safe Cosmetics 2011).

Data on ingredient composition of consumer products are difficult to obtain because reporting is not required by law, but there is some evidence that the plasticizer market is changing. …

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