Cumulative Exposure, Risk Assessment and Communication of Phthalates in Vulnerable Populations

EPA Grant Number: FP917508
Title: Cumulative Exposure, Risk Assessment and Communication of Phthalates in Vulnerable Populations
Investigators: Varshavsky, Julia Rachel
Institution: University of California - Berkeley
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: August 16, 2012 through August 15, 2015
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Public Health Sciences


This project will implement a cumulative phthalates risk assessment methodology set forth by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 2008. It will address whether in two populations of disadvantaged women there are sentinel metabolites that characterize phthalate exposure; whether a dose addition, component-based model for cumulative risk assessment can be used to predict additive risk in these groups; and what the major exposure sources and risk communication best practices are in these populations.


As part of larger ongoing efforts to assess exposure and risk, this research will enlist two under-represented communities: low-income California (CA) pregnant women and Vietnamese immigrant nail salon workers. The study will compare multiple urinary phthalate metabolite exposure levels in these groups to nationally representative population averages. Based on measures of frequency and potency, the study will construct a cumulative exposure metric and will then employ a component-based approach to cumulative risk assessment using a dose addition model to estimate additive mixture effects. The study also will explore potential exposure sources by correlating phthalate levels with culturally and linguistically appropriate questionnaires. Lastly, the study will report results to consenting participants in at least one of these populations. Interviews will be recorded for use in later qualitative analysis.

Expected Results:

By exploring the utility of the NAS method in predicting risk in vulnerable populations, this project will answer the question of whether certain metabolites characterize phthalate exposure in two sensitive groups. Nail salon workers likely will have higher levels due to their membership in a uniquely exposed occupational group. This research will result in the first-ever measurement of cumulative phthalate exposure in a CA population and also will reveal whether the NAS method can be used to evaluate cumulative risk. Phthalate levels likely will correlate with questionnaire data, providing insights into exposure sources and potential intervention strategies. A risk communication analysis will further identify best practices for responsible results communication in these vulnerable populations, helping to build trust and continued participation in the research process.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection

This research will advance scientific thinking around mixtures, cumulative risk assessment, exposure sources and risk communication in susceptible populations. It will inform efforts to characterize and address social disparities in chemical exposures and contribute to initiatives to manage phthalates and other compounds, ensure chemical safety, engage disadvantaged populations and promote sustainable and healthy communities.

Supplemental Keywords:

phthalates, reproductive health, risk communication

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2013
  • 2014
  • Final