Phthalates are the most ubiquitous contaminants that we are exposed to daily due to their wide use as plasticizers in various consumer products. A few studies have suggested that in utero exposure to phthalates can disturb fetal growth and development in humans, because phthalates can interfere with endocrine function. We collected spot urine samples from 291 pregnant women in their first trimester (9.8 ± 2.3 gestational weeks) recruited in an ongoing prospective cohort study in Saudi Arabia. A second urine sample was collected within 1-7 d after enrollment. The aims of this study were to: (1) assess the extent of exposure to phthalates during the first trimester and (2) estimate the risk from single and cumulative exposures to phthalates. Most phthalate metabolites’ urinary levels were high, several-fold higher than those reported in relevant studies from other countries. The highest median levels of monoethyl phthalate, mono-n-butyl phthalate (MnBP), mono-iso-butyl phthalate (MiBP), and mono-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (MEHP) in μg/l (μg/g creatinine) were 245.62 (197.23), 114.26 (99.45), 39.59 (34.02), and 23.51 (19.92), respectively. The MEHP levels were highest among three di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) metabolites. %MEHP, the ratio of MEHP to four di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate metabolites (∑DEHP), was 44%, indicating interindividual differences in metabolism and excretion. The hazard quotient (HQ) of individual phthalates estimated based on the reference dose (RfD) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicated that 58% (volume-based) and 37% (creatinine-based) of the women were at risk of exposure to ∑DEHP (HQ>1). Based on the tolerable daily intake (TDI) from the European Food Safety Authority, 35/12% (volume-/creatinine-based data) of the women were at risk of exposure to two dibutyl phthalate (∑DBP) metabolites (MiBP and MnBP). The cumulative risk was assessed using the hazard index (HI), the sum of HQs of all phthalates. The percentages of women (volume-/creatinine-based data) at health risks with an HI >1 were 64/40% and 42/22% based on RfD and TDI, respectively. In view of these indices for assessing risk, our results for the anti-androgenic effects of exposing pregnant women to ∑DEHP and ∑DBP early during pregnancy are alarming.
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