National Academy of Sciences Report Confirms that Biomonitoring Data Can Be Used to Show Average Phthalate Exposure is Below Safety Levels

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National Academy of Sciences Report Shows That Biomonitoring Data Can Be Interpreted to Indicate if Phthalates Pose a Potential Health Risk. Report is Also Critical of Testing Done as a Publicity Stunt.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has issued a report on biomonitoring – the practice of testing human blood, urine, or other fluids for the presence of environmental chemicals. The goal of biomonitoring is to understand the public health implications of exposure to chemicals or to the chemical presented in the body. The report reaches the conclusion that all responsible students of the newly developing science gain – the ability to generate biomonitoring data that often exceeds the ability to know what the data mean in a health risk context.

For phthalates, the message of the new report is good. The 14-member NAS committee lists phthalates as one of those families of chemicals for which it is possible to know the significance of the data. That is, biomonitoring data can be interpreted to indicate if phthalates pose a potential health risk. The NAS report notes that scientists can in many instances “…convert the biomonitoring data into a format that can be used as exposure information in risk assessments.”

Phthalates are listed as one of the families of chemicals that have been studied enough to make that assessment possible. Scientists know how the human body breaks down and excretes the phthalates that enter it. And there is a formula for converting the level of excreted breakdown products into an assessment of how much of the phthalate was taken into the body to begin with. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has tested more than 5,000 people for a large number of chemicals, including phthalates. The phthalate data can be converted into corresponding actual exposures, and then compared to safety levels (Environmental Protection Agency reference values) established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The result: average exposure levels are far below the EPA reference values.

The NAS is gently critical of publicity-stunt testing done by pressure groups and some newspapers. It notes that “…news-media reports present stories of people who have had their blood tested and are alarmed to learn that it contains hundreds of chemicals. For a number of those chemicals, scientific data could enable interpretation of individual measurements in comparison with validated reference values, but usually the interpretation stops with the mere observation that the chemical is present.” Of those pressure groups and newspapers that have analyzed blood or urine from a few subjects, we are not aware of any that went on to advise their audiences that generally accepted procedures exist to determine whether levels of phthalates and some other chemicals presented an actual risk to their health.

About The Phthalate Esters Panel

The Phthalate Esters Panel (the Panel) of the American Chemistry Council is composed of all major manufacturers and some users of the primary phthalate esters in commerce in the United States. Panel members include: BASF Corporation, Eastman Chemical Company, ExxonMobil Chemical Company, and Ferro Corporation. Teknor Apex Company, a major user of the materials, is an associate member. For more information visit the Phthalates Information Center.

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Marian Stanley
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