Time course of phthalate cumulative risks to male developmental health over a 27-year period: Biomonitoring samples of the German Environmental Specimen Bank

2020, Journals

Apel, Petra; Kortenkamp, Andreas; Koch, Holger M.; Vogel, Nina; Rüther, Maria; Kasper-Sonnenberg, Monika; Conrad, André; Brüning, Thomas; Kolossa-Gehring, Marike
Environmental International 137 (2020), 105467; online 6 February 2020


In several human biomonitoring surveys, changes in the usage patterns of phthalates have come to light, but their influence on the risks associated with combined exposures is insufficiently understood. Based on the largest study to date, the 27-year survey of urinary phthalate metabolite levels in 24-hour urine samples from the German Environmental Specimen Bank, we present a deep analysis of changing phthalate exposures on mixture risks. This analysis adopts the Hazard Index (HI) approach based on the five phthalates DBP, DIBP, BBP, DEHP and DINP. Calculations of the hazard index for each study participant included updated phthalate reference doses for anti-androgenicity (RfDAAs) that take account of new evidence of phthalates’ developmental toxicity.

The Maximum Cumulative Ratio (MCR) approach was used to establish whether a subject’s combined exposure was dominated by one phthalate or was influenced by several phthalates simultaneously. Generally, over the years there was a shift towards lower HIs and higher MCRs, reflecting an increased complexity of the combined exposures. The decade from 1988 to about 1999 was characterised by rather high HIs of between 3 and 7 (95th percentile) which were driven by exposure to DBP and DEHP, often exceeding their single acceptable exposures. Traditional single phthalate risk assessments would have underestimated these risks by up to 50%. From 2006 onwards, no study participant experienced exposures above acceptable levels for a single phthalate, but combined exposures were still in excess of HI = 1. From 2011 onwards most individuals stayed below HI = 1. In interpreting these results, we caution against the use of HI = 1 as an acceptable limit and develop proposals for improved and more realistic mixture risk assessments that take account of co-exposures to other anti-androgenic substances also capable of disrupting the male reproductive system. From this perspective, we regard HIs between 0.1 and 0.2 as more appropriate for evaluating combined phthalate exposures. Assessed against lowered HIs of 0.1 - 0.2, the combined phthalate exposures of most study participants exceeded acceptable levels in all study years, including 2015. Continued monitoring efforts for phthalate combinations are required to provide the basis for appropriate risk management measures.

doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2020.105467