Phthalate metabolites in 24-h urine samples of the German Environmental Specimen Bank (ESB) from 1988 to 2015 and a comparison with US NHANES data from 1999 to 2012

2016, Journals

Koch, Holger M.; Rüther, Maria; Schütze, André; Conrad, André; Pälmke, Claudia; Apel, Petra; Brüning, Thomas, Kolossa-Gehring, Marike
International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health (2016), online 9 November 2016


The German Environmental Specimen Bank (ESB) continuously collects 24-h urine samples since the early 1980s in Germany. In this study we analyzed 300 urine samples from the years 2007 to 2015 for 21 phthalate metabolites (representing exposure to 11 parent phthalates) and combined the data with two previous retrospective measurement campaigns (1988 to 2003 and 2002 to 2008). The combined dataset comprised 1162 24-h urine samples spanning the years 1988 to 2015. With this detailed set of human biomonitoring data we describe the time course of phthalate exposure in Germany over a time frame of 27 years. For the metabolites of the endocrine disrupting phthalates di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP) and butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP) we observed a roughly ten-fold decline in median metabolite levels from their peak levels in the late 1980s/early 1990s compared to most recent levels from 2015. Probably, bans (first enacted in 1999) and classifications/labelings (enacted in 2001 and 2004) in the European Union lead to this drop. A decline in di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP) metabolite levels set in only quite recently, possibly due to its later classification as a reproductive toxicant in the EU in 2009. In a considerable number of samples collected before 2002 health based guidance values (BE, HBM I) have been exceeded for DnBP (27.2%) and DEHP (2.3%) but also in recent samples some individual exceedances can still be observed (DEHP 1.0%). A decrease in concentration for all low molecular weight phthalates, labelled or not, was seen in the most recent years of sampling. For the high molecular weight phthalates, DEHP seems to have been substituted in part by di-isononyl phthalate (DiNP), but DiNP metabolite levels have also been declining in the last years. Probably, non-phthalate alternatives increasingly take over for the phthalates in Germany. A comparison with NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) data from the United States covering the years 1999 to 2012 revealed both similarities and differences in phthalate exposure between Germany and the US. Exposure to critical phthalates has decreased in both countries with metabolite levels more and more aligning with each other, but high molecular weight phthalates substituting DEHP (such as DiNP) seem to become more important in the US than in Germany.