Diverging trends of plasticizers (phthalates and non-phthalates) in indoor and freshwater environments—why?

2022, Journals

Nagorka, Regine; Birmili, Wolfram; Schulze, Jona; Koschorreck, Jan
Environ Sci Eur, 34, 46 (2022), online 19 May 2022


European chemicals management aims to protect human health and the environment from legacy and emerging contaminants. The plasticizer market changed in response to the restriction of low molecular weight (LMW) phthalate plasticizers such as Di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) due to their hazardous properties.

We investigated patterns and trends of 19 regulated and emerging plasticizers in house dust from German homes and in suspended particulate matter (SPM) from major German rivers. The samples were used from the mid-2000s and late 2010s from two governmental long-term monitoring programs in Germany.

While the sum of the respective plasticizer levels hardly changed over the study period, we observed a significant decrease of LMW phthalates in both house dust (2003/06, 80% of the ∑plasticizer concentration; 2014/17, 31%) and SPM (2005, 48%; 2017, 28%). This was accompanied by their substitution with high molecular weight (HMW) phthalates and non-phthalates. HMW phthalates increased from 19% of the ∑plasticizer concentration to 46% between the mid-2000s and the late 2010s in house dust, and from 50% to 63% in SPM samples. Diisononyl phthalate (DINP) replaced DEHP as the dominant plasticizer in both compartments. A significant tenfold increase (p < 0.05) was observed in SPM samples for Di (2-propylheptyl) phthalate (DPHP) (1–13%), compared to low levels in house dust (2014/17, 1%). Non-phthalates increased to 23% of the ∑plasticizer concentration in house dust but only to 9% in SPM (mid-2000s: house dust, < 1%; SPM, 1.5%). In recent house dust samples, Di (2-ethylhexyl) terephthalate (DEHT) had the third highest concentration of all plasticizers and contributed 18% to the total load, whereas Tris (2-ethylhexyl) trimellitate (TOTM) was one of the major non-phthalates in SPM samples.

Unlike in the indoor environment, the substitution of LMW phthalates in the aquatic environment was characterized by a significant shift towards plasticizers with potentially hazardous properties. DPHP and TOTM were identified by European chemical regulation as potentially endocrine disrupting compounds and persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic compounds. Our data document the need for integrated chemicals management to safeguard the transition to a non-toxic environment.

doi: 10.1186/s12302-022-00620-4