SVOC exposure indoors: fresh look at dermal pathways


  • C. J. Weschler,

    1. Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ, USA
    2. International Centre for Indoor Environment and Energy, Technical University of Denmark, Lyngby, Denmark
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  • W. W. Nazaroff

    1. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA
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C. J. Weschler
Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
Piscataway, NJ 08854, USA
Tel.: 732 235-4114
Fax: 732 445-0116


Abstract  This paper critically examines indoor exposure to semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs) via dermal pathways. First, it demonstrates that – in central tendency – an SVOC’s abundance on indoor surfaces and in handwipes can be predicted reasonably well from gas-phase concentrations, assuming that thermodynamic equilibrium prevails. Then, equations are developed, based upon idealized mass-transport considerations, to estimate transdermal penetration of an SVOC either from its concentration in skin-surface lipids or its concentration in air. Kinetic constraints limit air-to-skin transport in the case of SVOCs that strongly sorb to skin-surface lipids. Air-to-skin transdermal uptake is estimated to be comparable to or larger than inhalation intake for many SVOCs of current or potential interest indoors, including butylated hydroxytoluene, chlordane, chlorpyrifos, diethyl phthalate, Galaxolide, geranyl acetone, nicotine (in free-base form), PCB28, PCB52, Phantolide, Texanol and Tonalide. Although air-to-skin transdermal uptake is anticipated to be slow for bisphenol A, we find that transdermal permeation may nevertheless be substantial following its transfer to skin via contact with contaminated surfaces. The paper concludes with explorations of the influence of particles and dust on dermal exposure, the role of clothing and bedding as transport vectors, and the potential significance of hair follicles as transport shunts through the epidermis.

Practical Implications

Human exposure to indoor pollutants can occur through dietary and nondietary ingestion, inhalation, and dermal absorption. Many factors influence the relative importance of these pathways, including physical and chemical properties of the pollutants. This paper argues that exposure to indoor semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs) through the dermal pathway has often been underestimated. Transdermal permeation of SVOCs can be substantially greater than is commonly assumed. Transport of SVOCs from the air to and through the skin is typically not taken into account in exposure assessments. Yet, for certain SVOCs, intake through skin is estimated to be substantially larger than intake through inhalation. Exposure scientists, risk assessors, and public health officials should be mindful of the dermal pathway when estimating exposures to indoor SVOCs. Also, they should recognize that health consequences vary with exposure pathway. For example, an SVOC that enters the blood through the skin does not encounter the same detoxifying enzymes that an ingested SVOC would experience in the stomach, intestines, and liver before it enters the blood.