Urinary levels of seven phthalate metabolites in the U.S. population from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999-2000

Environ Health Perspect. 2004 Mar;112(3):331-8. doi: 10.1289/ehp.6723.


We measured the urinary monoester metabolites of seven commonly used phthalates in approximately 2,540 samples collected from participants of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 1999-2000, who were greater than or equal to 6 years of age. We found detectable levels of metabolites monoethyl phthalate (MEP), monobutyl phthalate (MBP), monobenzyl phthalate (MBzP), and mono-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (MEHP) in > 75% of the samples, suggesting widespread exposure in the United States to diethyl phthalate, dibutyl phthalate or diisobutylphthalate, benzylbutyl phthalate, and di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, respectively. We infrequently detected monoisononyl phthalate, mono-cyclohexyl phthalate, and mono-n-octyl phthalate, suggesting that human exposures to di-isononyl phthalate, dioctylphthalate, and dicyclohexyl phthalate, respectively, are lower than those listed above, or the pathways, routes of exposure, or pharmacokinetic factors such as absorption, distribution, metabolism, and elimination are different. Non-Hispanic blacks had significantly higher concentrations of MEP than did Mexican Americans and non-Hispanic whites. Compared with adolescents and adults, children had significantly higher levels of MBP, MBzP, and MEHP but had significantly lower concentrations of MEP. Females had significantly higher concentrations of MEP and MBzP than did males, but similar MEHP levels. Of particular interest, females of all ages had significantly higher concentrations of the reproductive toxicant MBP than did males of all ages; however, women of reproductive age (i.e., 20-39 years of age) had concentrations similar to adolescent girls and women 40 years of age. These population data on exposure to phthalates will serve an important role in public health by helping to set research priorities and by establishing a nationally representative baseline of exposure with which population levels can be compared.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • African Continental Ancestry Group*
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Phthalic Acids / metabolism*
  • Phthalic Acids / pharmacokinetics
  • Phthalic Acids / urine*
  • Reference Values
  • Sex Factors


  • Phthalic Acids