Exposure to Phthalates in European Children, Adolescents and Adults since 2005: A Harmonized Approach Based on Existing HBM Data in the HBM4EU Initiative

Nina Vogel*, Rosa Lange, Phillipp Schmidt, Laura Rodriguez Martin, Sylvie Remy, Andrea Springer, Vladimíra Puklová, Milena Černá, Péter Rudnai, Szilvia Középesy, Beata Janasik, Danuta Ligocka, Lucia Fábelová, Branislav Kolena, Ida Petrovicova, Michal Jajcaj, Milada Eštóková, Marta Esteban-Lopez, Argelia Castaño, Janja Snoj TratnikAnja Stajnko, Lisbeth E Knudsen, Jorma Toppari, Katharina M Main, Anders Juul, Anna-Maria Andersson, Niels Jørgensen, Hanne Frederiksen, Cathrine Thomsen, Amrit Kaur Sakhi, Agneta Åkesson, Christina Hartmann, Marie Christine Dewolf, Gudrun Koppen, Pierre Biot, Elly Den Hond, Stefan Voorspoels, Liese Gilles, Eva Govarts, Aline Murawski, Antje Gerofke, Till Weber, Maria Rüther, Arno C Gutleb, Cedric Guignard, Tamar Berman, Holger M Koch, Marike Kolossa-Gehring

*Corresponding author for this work


Phthalates are mainly used as plasticizers and are associated inter alia with adverse effects on reproductive functions. While more and more national programs in Europe have started monitoring internal exposure to phthalates and its substitute 1,2-Cyclohexanedicarboxylic acid (DINCH), the comparability of results from such existing human biomonitoring (HBM) studies across Europe is challenging. They differ widely in time periods, study samples, degree of geographical coverage, design, analytical methodology, biomarker selection, and analytical quality assurance level. The HBM4EU initiative has gathered existing HBM data of 29 studies from participating countries, covering all European regions and Israel. The data were prepared and aggregated by a harmonized procedure with the aim to describe-as comparably as possible-the EU-wide general population's internal exposure to phthalates from the years 2005 to 2019. Most data were available from Northern (up to 6 studies and up to 13 time points), Western (11; 19), and Eastern Europe (9; 12), e.g., allowing for the investigation of time patterns. While the bandwidth of exposure was generally similar, we still observed regional differences for Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP), Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), Di-isononyl phthalate (DiNP), and Di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP) with pronounced decreases over time in Northern and Western Europe, and to a lesser degree in Eastern Europe. Differences between age groups were visible for Di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP), where children (3 to 5-year olds and 6 to 11-year olds) had lower urinary concentrations than adolescents (12 to 19-year-olds), who in turn had lower urinary concentrations than adults (20 to 39-year-olds). This study is a step towards making internal exposures to phthalates comparable across countries, although standardized data were not available, targeting European data sets harmonized with respect to data formatting and calculation of aggregated data (such as developed within HBM4EU), and highlights further suggestions for improved harmonization in future studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number241
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2023


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