Current strategies for predicting adverse health outcomes of environmental chemicals are centered on early key events in toxicity pathways. However, quantitative relationships between early molecular changes in a given pathway and later health effects are often poorly defined. The goal of this study was to evaluate short-term key event indicators using qualitative and quantitative methods in an established pathway of mouse liver tumorigenesis mediated by peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PPARα). Male B6C3F1 mice were exposed for 7 days to di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), di-n-octyl phthalate (DNOP), and n-butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), which vary in PPARα activity and liver tumorigenicity. Each phthalate increased expression of select PPARα target genes at 7 days, while only DEHP significantly increased liver cell proliferation labeling index (LI). Transcriptional benchmark dose (BMDT) estimates for dose-related genomic markers stratified phthalates according to hypothetical tumorigenic potencies, unlike BMDs for non-genomic endpoints (relative liver weights or proliferation). The 7-day BMDT values for Acot1 as a surrogate measure for PPARα activation were 29, 370, and 676 mg/kg/day for DEHP, DNOP, and BBP, respectively, distinguishing DEHP (liver tumor BMD of 35 mg/kg/day) from non-tumorigenic DNOP and BBP. Effect thresholds were generated using linear regression of DEHP effects at 7 days and 2-year tumor incidence values to anchor early response molecular indicators and a later phenotypic outcome. Thresholds varied widely by marker, from 2-fold (Pdk4 and proliferation LI) to 30-fold (Acot1) induction to reach hypothetical tumorigenic expression levels. These findings highlight key issues in defining thresholds for biological adversity based on molecular changes.