Background, aim, and scope: Food consumption is an important route of human exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. So far, this has been demonstrated by exposure modeling or analytical identification of single substances in foodstuff (e.g., phthalates) and human body fluids (e.g., urine and blood). Since the research in this field is focused on few chemicals (and thus missing mixture effects), the overall contamination of edibles with xenohormones is largely unknown. The aim of this study was to assess the integrated estrogenic burden of bottled mineral water as model foodstuff and to characterize the potential sources of the estrogenic contamination.
Materials, methods, and results: In the present study, we analyzed commercially available mineral water in an in vitro system with the human estrogen receptor alpha and detected estrogenic contamination in 60% of all samples with a maximum activity equivalent to 75.2 ng/l of the natural sex hormone 17beta-estradiol. Furthermore, breeding of the molluskan model Potamopyrgus antipodarum in water bottles made of glass and plastic [polyethylene terephthalate (PET)] resulted in an increased reproductive output of snails cultured in PET bottles. This provides first evidence that substances leaching from plastic food packaging materials act as functional estrogens in vivo.
Discussion and conclusions: Our results demonstrate a widespread contamination of mineral water with xenoestrogens that partly originates from compounds leaching from the plastic packaging material. These substances possess potent estrogenic activity in vivo in a molluskan sentinel. Overall, the results indicate that a broader range of foodstuff may be contaminated with endocrine disruptors when packed in plastics.