The UBA researchers use the morning urine to determine, among other things, the exposure of the children and adolescents to plasticisers, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), metals, parabens, certain pesticides, pyrrolidones, and active and passive smoking (cotinine). Some of the aforementioned substances have a similar effect to hormones and can encourage the development of cancer or trigger allergies.
Plasticisers in urine
The spotlight here is on phthalates and their substitutes. They are used as plasticisers in PVC and can be found, for instance, in toys, food packaging films, floor coverings, hoses, seals or carpeted floors. Some phthalates have hormone-like properties and are classified as detrimental to reproduction.
Phthalates break down quickly in the body, with the result that the degradation products, known as metabolites, can be found in the urine. In the 5th environmental survey the UBA is determining the quantities of metabolites from more than ten phthalates and phthalate substitutes. These include: DEHP (Di(2-ethylhexyl)-phthalate), DnBP (di-n-butyl phthalate), DiBP (di-iso-butyl phthalate), BBzP (butyl benzyl phthalate), DEP (diethyl phthalate), (di-iso-nonyl phthalate) DiNP, DIDP (di-iso-decyl phthalate), DMP (di-methyl phthalate), DnPeP (di-n-pentyl phthalate), DnOP (di-n-octyl phthalate), DChP (di-cyclo-hexyl phthalate), DPHP (di-propy-heptyl phthalate) and DINCH (di-iso-nonyl-cyclohexane 1.2-dicarboxylat).
PAH in urine
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are created when organic material, such as wood, coal, or oil, fails to combust fully. They also occur in used motor oils, tar and soot. Many PAH are carcinogenic, can damage genetic material or jeopardise reproductive capacity. There is evidence that children react more sensitively to PAH than adults.
PAH are detected in the urine through the concentration of metabolites of 1-Hydroxypyrene, 1-Hydroxypheanthrene, 2-Hydroxyphenanthrene, 3-Hydroxyphenanthrene and 4-Hydroxyphenanthrene.
Cotinine in urine
Smoking, and with it second-hand smoke (SHS), is still widespread in Germany. Because nicotine can no longer be detected after only a short time (half-life of 2 hours), exposure to smoking or SHS is determined by the presence of cotinine, a nicotine breakdown product. Cotinine can be found in the urine one or two days after contact with nicotine (half-life of approximately 20 hours); this takes a little longer in the case of non-smokers and children.
Creatinine in urine
Creatinine is not a pollutant, but is made in muscle and nerve cells by the body itself. The amount of creatinine secreted indicates how strongly the urine is diluted. The value is used to classify the relative exposure to other substances.
Metals in urine
Small quantities of some metals, such as zinc or copper, are vitally important for the human body. Others can cause harm, even in small doses, if they enter the body. Examples of these are cadmium and some precious metals such as gold, platinum, and palladium. The metals or their ions penetrate into the organism, for example, through the ingestion of food or via dental implants, and accumulate there over time. The degree of contamination in the body is determined directly from the urine.
Mercury in urine
This metal occurs naturally in the environment but is also used in industry. Thermometers used to be manufactured with mercury; today it features, among other places, in energy saving lamps. Mercury vapour may escape when they break. We ingest organic mercury, for example, when we eat sea food. As was shown by the DEMOCOPHES study in 2011, the exposure to organic mercury is relatively low in Germany in comparison to other EU member states. The amount of metallic and inorganic mercury absorbed can be analysed directly by means of urine or blood samples.
Arsenic in urine
The semi-metal arsenic is absorbed through the digestive tract and can accumulate in muscles, bones, kidneys or lungs. Exposure is measured directly in urine.
Parabens in urine
These compounds are used as a preservatives and are found, among other places, in cosmetic products such as creams or shampoos; some may also be used in medicines and foodstuffs. Animal tests have shown that some parabens act like hormones. They are detected directly in urine.
Organophosphates in urine
These compounds are among the most important agricultural pesticides and are absorbed primarily via residues on food. Organophosphates can inhibit an enzyme of the nervous system and trigger cramps - right through to respiratory arrest.
In the 5th environmental survey the UBA is analysing the urine of the subjects for at least five metabolites of organophosphates: dimethylphosphate (DMP), dimethyl thiophosphate (DMTP), dimethyl dithiophosphate (DMDTP), diethylphosphate (DEP), diethylthiophosphate (DETP) and diethyl dithiophosphate (DEDTP).
Pyrrolidones in urine
The pyrrolidones NMP (N-methyl-2-Pyrrolidone) and NEP (N-ethyl-2-Pyrrolidone) are used as solvents in pesticides and found in automotive coatings, paint removers, coating agents for parquet floors and non-stick coatings. NMP has been classified as mutagenic or reprotoxic and is therefore increasingly being replaced by NEP. This latter is still not classified as reprotoxic.
NMP and NEP are broken down in the body to form metabolites. Quantities of the NMP metabolites of 5-hydroxy-N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone (5-HNMP) and 2-hydroxy-N-methylsuccinimid (2-HMSI) and the NEP metabolite of 5-hydroxy-N-ethyl-2-pyrrolidone (5-HNEP) and 2-hydroxy-N-ethylsuccinimid (2-HESI) are found in urine.
Mercaptobenzothiazole in urine
Mercaptobenzothiazole (MBT) is what is known as a vulcanisation accelerator and is used in the manufacture of rubber. MBT is contained, for example, in air mattresses, rubber gloves, bathing caps or toys and balloons. In some people MBT may trigger a contact allergy, that is, an uncomfortable inflammation of the skin. Exposure to MBT is determined directly in urine.