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March 26, 2001
Volume 79, Number 13
CENEAR 79 13 pp.18
ISSN 0009-2347
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Data prompt scientists to track phthalates' pathways in humans


A report on human exposure to chemicals is spurring new federal research on how phthalates get into people's bodies.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) released a report measuring the levels of 27 substances, including metals and organophosphate pesticides, in human blood and urine. The report is the first to determine the amount of these chemicals actually in people's bodies, as opposed to how much is found in air, water, or food, says Richard J. Jackson, director of CDC's National Center for Environmental Health. The chemicals were detected at levels that generally did not raise health

However, the metabolite levels of two of the seven phthalates tracked did raise warning flags. Phthalates are widely used synthetic substances suspected of interfering with hormones. CDC found metabolite levels of two phthalates--diethyl phthalate (DEP) and dibutyl phthalate--to be much higher in the body than would have been expected given their production volumes.

James L. Pirkle, a deputy director at CDC's Laboratory Sciences Division, says the level of DEP in humans, as tracked by its metabolite monoethyl phthalate, was the highest among the seven phthalates in relation to its production volume. DEP is widely used in soaps, shampoos, and cosmetics, and might easily enter the body through the skin, he says. The report found no evidence that DEP is harder for the body to break down than the other phthalates, he adds.

But CDC says the new data are prompting it to study the pathways through which phthalates enter the human body.

The monitoring data merely indicate the presence of the chemicals in humans and do not necessarily indicate that the substances will cause health risks, Jackson cautions. Data on the 27 substances will be collected annually allowing researchers to track trends in exposure to the chemicals over time.

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