Urinary Phthalate Metabolite Concentrations among Workers in Selected Industries: A Pilot Biomonitoring Study

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Phthalates are used as plasticizers and solvents in industrial, medical and consumer products; however, occupational exposure information is limited. We sought to obtain preliminary information on occupational exposures to diethyl phthalate (DEP), di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP) and di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) by analyzing for their metabolites in urine samples collected from workers in a cross-section of industries. We also obtained data on metabolites of dimethyl phthalate (DMP), benzylbutyl phthalate (BzBP), di-isobutyl phthalate and di-isononyl phthalate. We recruited 156 workers in 2003–2005 from eight industry sectors. We assessed occupational contribution by comparing end-shift metabolite concentrations to the US general population. Evidence of occupational exposure to DEHP was strongest in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) film manufacturing, PVC compounding and rubber boot manufacturing where geometric mean (GM) end-shift concentrations of DEHP metabolites exceeded general population levels by 8-, 6- and 3-fold, respectively. Occupational exposure to DBP was most evident in rubber gasket, phthalate (raw material) and rubber hose manufacturing, with DBP metabolite concentrations exceeding general population levels by 26-, 25- and 10-fold, respectively, whereas DBP exposure in nail-only salons (manicurists) was only 2-fold higher than in the general population. Concentrations of DEP and DMP metabolites in phthalate manufacturing exceeded general population levels by 4- and >1000-fold, respectively. We also found instances where GM end-shift concentrations of some metabolites exceeded general population concentrations even when no workplace use was reported, e.g. BzBP in rubber hose and rubber boot manufacturing. In summary, using urinary metabolites, we successfully identified workplaces with likely occupational phthalate exposure. Additional work is needed to distinguish occupational from non-occupational sources in low-exposure workplaces.

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