Toxic equivalency factors (TEFs) are generally applied for estimating human risk of dioxins and dioxin-like compounds using systemic (e.g., blood) levels, even though these TEFs are established based on intake doses in rodent studies. This review shows that systemic relative effect potencies (REPs) can deviate substantially from intake REPs, but are similar to in vitro-derived REPs. Interestingly, the in vitro REPs for 1,2,3,4,6,7,8-heptachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (HpCDD) and 2,3,4,7,8-pentachlorodibenzofuran (4-PeCDF) are up to one order of magnitude higher than their in vivo REPs and WHO-TEFs, based on oral intake. In addition, clear species-differences in in vitro REPs were apparent for some congeners. Especially the human-derived REP for polychlorinated biphenyl 126 is one to two orders of magnitude lower than rodent REPs and its current WHO-TEF. Next, suggested adapted systemic or human-specific TEFs for these congeners were applied to calculate changes in systemic TEQ concentrations in studies from the USA, Germany and Japan and compared with either the JECFA TDI or USEPA RfD of TCDD. Overall, the effect of such TEF changes for these three congeners on total TEQ roughly balances each other out in the general population. However, results may be different for situations in which a specific group of congeners dominates. For those congeners that show a distinct deviation between either intake and systemic REPs or between rodent- and human-based in vitro REPs, we propose that especially REPs derived from human-based in vitro models are weighted more heavily in establishing systemic or human-specific TEF values to improve human health risk assessment.
Keywords: Dibenzofurans; Dioxins; Human risk assessment; PCBs; TEF-concept.