Are nails a valuable non-invasive alternative for estimating human exposure to phthalate esters?

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Most human biomonitoring studies conducted in the past year for assessing the human exposure to phthalate esters (PEs) employed measurements of PE metabolites in urine. Although urine is recognized as a valuable non-invasive matrix, it has also limitations regarding the short time window for exposure.

Therefore, in this pilot feasibility study we aimed to assess the human exposure to seven PE metabolites (including mono(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (MEHP), mono(2-ethyl-5-oxohexyl) phthalate (5-oxo-MEHP), mono(2-ethyl-5-hydroxyhexyl) phthalate (5-OH-MEHP), mono-n-butyl phthalate (MnBP), mono-isobutyl phthalate (MiBP), monoethyl phthalate (MEP) and mono-benzyl phthalate (MBzP)) using human nails. Paired nails and urine samples from the same individuals were used for comparison. Median levels of specific PE metabolites measured in nails and in spot urine of twenty Belgian individuals ranged from

Significant correlations were achieved between different metabolites in nails and urine, i.e., MEHP levels in nails correlate well with sum (MnBP, MiBP) (r=0.73, p <0.01) and with MBzP (r=0.52, p <0.05) levels in urine. Moderate correlations were observed between 5-OH-MEHP and sum (MnBP, MiBP) (r=0.62, p <0.01) as well as with MEP (r=0.56, p <0.05) in both matrices. However, no significant correlation was observed for the same metabolite measured in both matrices.

Based on participant questionnaires and after performing multivariate statistics, the relevant parameters of exposure positively associated with PE metabolites in nails were the use of hand care products, weight of the individuals and sport activity hours. Based on the detected levels and aforementioned predictors, nails seem a valuable non-invasive matrix for estimating human long-term exposure to DEP, DBnP and/or DIBP and DEHP.

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