A critical review of human exposure to organophosphate esters with a focus on dietary intake

Muideen Remilekun Gbadamosi, Mohamed Abou-Elwafa Abdallah, Stuart Harrad

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
284 Downloads (Pure)


Organophosphate esters (OPEs) are common additives in a wide range of commercial and industrial products. Elevated and prolonged exposure to OPEs may induce several adverse effects. This is concerning as they are ubiquitous in air, indoor dust, drinking water, and other environmental matrices. However, information on the presence of OPEs in foodstuffs and consequent health risks remains scant. This review critically evaluates available information on levels and sources of OPEs in food, discusses the relative significance of diet as a pathway of human exposure, identifies knowledge gaps, and suggests directions for future research. For toddlers, dermal uptake from dust ingestion appears the predominant pathway of exposure to chlorinated OPEs, as well as ethylhexyl diphenyl phosphate (EHDPP) and triphenyl phosphate (TPHP). In contrast, diet appears the main pathway of exposure to all eight OPEs considered for adults, and for tri n-butyl phosphate (TnBP), tris 2-ethylhexyl phosphate (TEHP), and tris (2-butoxyethyl) phosphate (TBOEP) for toddlers. While summed exposures via all pathways are within reference dose (RfD) values, they do not include high-end exposure estimates, and for highly-exposed individuals, the margin between exposure and RfD values is smaller. Moreover, our exposure estimates are based on a meta-analysis of multiple exposure assessments conducted over a range of points in space and time. There is an urgent need for assessments of human exposure to OPEs that examine all relevant pathways in a spatially and temporally-consistent fashion. Given food is an important exposure pathway to OPEs, regular monitoring of their presence as well as their metabolites (that may have toxicological significance) in foodstuffs is recommended. While dermal uptake from indoor dust appears an important human exposure pathway, no evaluations exist of exposure via dermal uptake from OPE-containing products such as foam-filled furniture. This review also highlights very few data exist on OPEs in drinking water.

Original languageEnglish
Article number144752
Number of pages13
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date27 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021


  • Dermal uptake
  • Drinking water
  • Foodstuffs
  • Indoor air
  • Indoor dust
  • Organophosphate esters


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