Year : 2006  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 111--115

Phthalate exposure and health outcomes

SK Rastogi1, C Kesavachandran2, Farzana Mahdi1, Amit Pandey1,  
1 Eras Lucknow Medical College and Hospital, Lucknow, India
2 Epidemiology Section, Industrial Toxicology Research Centre (CSIR), Lucknow, India

Correspondence Address:
S K Rastogi
Department of Physiology, Eras Lucknow Medical College and Hospital, Lucknow


Phthalates are used in commercial products as softners of plastics, solvents in perfumes and additives to hair sprays, lubricants and insect repellents. The wide spread use of phthalate results in multiple human exposure routes i.e., ingestion, inhalation and dermal exposure. In the present review, a detailed account of respiratory toxicity, reproductive toxicity, developmental toxicity, endocrine disruptors and genotoxicity of human exposure to phthalate is mentioned in detail.

How to cite this article:
Rastogi S K, Kesavachandran C, Mahdi F, Pandey A. Phthalate exposure and health outcomes.Indian J Occup Environ Med 2006;10:111-115

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Rastogi S K, Kesavachandran C, Mahdi F, Pandey A. Phthalate exposure and health outcomes. Indian J Occup Environ Med [serial online] 2006 [cited 2020 Sep 26 ];10:111-115
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Phthalates represent a large class of chemicals that are widely used in commercial products. Phthalates are dialkyl or alkyl /aryl esters of 1,2-benzene dicarboxylic acids which have numerous uses as softeners of plastics, solvents in perfumes and additives to hair sprays, lubricants and insect repellents.[1],[2],[3],[4],[5] In the residential construction or automotive industries diethyl hexyl phthalate, dibutyl phthalate and butyl benzyl phthalate are used in floorings, paints, adhesives, wood finishes, wall paper and in PVC products. The high levels of mono ethyl phthalates across the population are most likely associated with the every day use of consumer products that commonly contain diethyl phthalates (DEP), such as detergents, soaps, cosmetics, shampoo and perfumes. Phthaltes are multifunctional chemicals used to hold colour and scent in consumer and personal care products. Phthalates are also present in drinking water, air and food. Diethyl hexyl phthalate (DEHP), one of the more commonly used phthalates leaches from blood products, intravenous and dialysate bags and tubings made with PVC.

In particular di - (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) is the most commonly used plasticizer. Globally, more than 18 billion pounds of phthalates are used each year and well above 2 million tons of DEHP alone are produced annually worldwide.[6] Other important phthaltes production and application wise are DEP, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), di- iso - and di-n-butylphthalate (DiBuP, DnBuP), butyl-benzylphthalate (BBzP),di-isononylphthalte (DiNP) or di-n-octylphthalte (DnOP).[7] The potential for non occupational exposure to phthaltes is high given their use in a vast range of consumable products and because they are not covalently bound to the other chemicals in the formulations. After exposure, phthalates are rapidly hydrolyzed to their respective monoesters which can be further biotransformed to oxidative metabolites.

The wide spread use of phthalates results in multiple human exposure routes. Humans are exposed to these compounds through ingestion, inhalation and dermal exposure for their whole lifetime, since the intrauterine life.[8],[9],[10] Dermal and inhalative exposures are considered to be the major route of exposure to DEP that is found in hygiene products such as soap, shampoo and conditioners. DEP and DBP are used extensively in products with volatile components such as perfumes, nail polishes and hair sprays possibly leading to inhalation and efficient absorption through the lungs. Dermal absorption also occurs at a significant rate for phthalates with short side chains such as DEP, DBP and BzBP.[11] In contrast, for phthalates that are used mainly as plasticizers, such as DEHP, oral exposures predominate.[12]

 Metabolism of phthalates

Phthalates are lipophilic compounds that appear not to bioaccumulate.[13] These are rapidly metabolized to their respective monoesters and further oxidative products which are glucuronidated and excreted through the urine and feces.[14],[15],[16] Recent metabolic studies have shown that long alkyl chain phthaltes such as dioctryl phthalate are broken down to small chain phthalates before elimination from the body.

 Urinary measures of phthalates

Until recently, there was no direct way to measure phthalate exposure in environmentally and occupationally exposed individuals. We also had no population data on urinary phthalates levels and to date there are no published data that indicate sources of exposure associated with phthalates. With the recent studies on phthalates several urinary biomarkers are now available to assess specific phthalate monoesters.[17] These biomarkers reflect recent exposure and have been demonstrated to be reliable.[18] The measurement of monoester metabolites have been preferred over the metabolites of diester phthalates because the former have the added advantage of having longer biologic half life (12 hrs) than the latter ones ( in vitro exposure to DEHP and MEHP.[62] Using the alkaline comet assay, researchers have found evidence of genotoxicity with in vitro studies examining lymphocytes and mucosal cells of digestive tract after exposure to DBP and DiBP.

In another study using the alkaline comet assay on human leucocytes, an association between MEHP and DEHP and increased tail movements was found.[60],[61],[62]


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