Human risk assessment and TEFs

Food Addit Contam. 2000 Apr;17(4):347-58. doi: 10.1080/026520300283414.


The concept of toxic equivalency factors (TEFs) has been developed to facilitate risk assessment and regulatory control of exposure to complex PCDD, PCDF and PCB mixtures. Recently the European Centre for Environment and Health of the World Health Organization (WHO-ECEH) and the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) jointly re-evaluated the TEFs of PCDDs, PCDFs and dioxin-like PCBs for mammals and derived consensus TEFs for birds and fish (Stockholm, 1997). From a mechanistic point of view it can be concluded that, although the quantitative response will vary depending on the congener involved, the occurrence of a common mechanism (binding to the Ah receptor) legitimates the use of the TEF concept across species. But there also is criticism regarding the TEF concept. Pharmacokinetic differences between species can significantly influence the TEF value, and uncertainties due to additive or non-additive interactions, to differences in species responsiveness and to differences in the shape of the dose-response curve might hamper the derivation of consensus TEF values. In this context it should be noted, however, that using TCDD alone, as the only measure of exposure to dioxin-like PCDDs, PCDFs and PCBs, would severely underestimate the risk from exposure to these compounds. Therefore, it can be concluded that, for pragmatic reasons, the TEF concept remains the most feasible approach for risk assessment purposes, in spite of the uncertainties associated with its use.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzofurans / adverse effects
  • Dibenzofurans, Polychlorinated
  • Dioxins / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / adverse effects
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / adverse effects
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / analogs & derivatives
  • Risk Assessment / methods
  • Risk Assessment / standards
  • Species Specificity


  • Benzofurans
  • Dibenzofurans, Polychlorinated
  • Dioxins
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls