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Food Chem Toxicol. 2000 Feb-Mar;38(2-3):255-312.

Threshold of toxicological concern for chemical substances present in the diet: a practical tool for assessing the need for toxicity testing.

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RITOX-Utrecht University, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, PO Box 80176, 3508 TD Utrecht, The Netherlands.


The de minimis concept acknowledges a human exposure threshold value for chemicals below which there is no significant risk to human health. It is the underlying principle for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation on substances used in food-contact articles. Further to this, the principle of Threshold of Toxicological Concern (TTC) has been developed and is now used by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) in their evaluations. Establishing an accepted TTC would benefit consumers, industry and regulators, since it would preclude extensive toxicity evaluations when human intakes are below such threshold, and direct considerable time and cost resources towards testing substances with the highest potential risk to human health. It was questioned, however, whether specific endpoints that may potentially give rise to low-dose effects would be covered by such threshold. In this review, the possibility of defining a TTC for chemical substances present in the diet was examined for general toxicity endpoints (including carcinogenicity), as well as for specific endpoints, namely neurotoxicity and developmental neurotoxicity, immunotoxicity and developmental toxicity. For each of these endpoints, a database of specific no-observed-effect levels (NOELs) was compiled by screening oral toxicity studies. The substances recorded in each specific database were selected on the basis of their demonstrated adverse effects. For the neurotoxicity and developmental neurotoxicity databases, it was intended to cover all classes of compounds reported to have either a demonstrated neurotoxic or developmentally neurotoxic effect, or at least, on a biochemical or pharmacological basis were considered to have a potential for displaying such effects. For the immunotoxicity endpoint, it was ensured that only immunotoxicants were included in the database by selecting most of the substances from the Luster et al. database, provided that they satisfied the criteria for immunotoxicity defined by Luster. For the developmental toxicity database, substances were selected from the Munro et al. database that contained the lowest NOELs retrieved from the literature for more than 600 compounds. After screening these, substances showing any effect which could point to developmental toxicity as broadly defined by the US were recorded in the database. Additionally, endocrine toxicity and allergenicity were addressed as two separate cases, using different approaches and methodology. The distributions of NOELs for the neurotoxicity, developmental neurotoxicity and developmental toxicity endpoints were compared with the distribution of NOELs for non-specific carcinogenic endpoints. As the immunotoxicity database was too limited to draw such a distribution of immune NOELs, the immunotoxicity endpoint was evaluated by comparing immune NOELs (or LOELs-lowest-observed-effect levels-when NOELs were not available) with non-immune NOELs (or LOELs), in order to compare the sensitivity of this endpoint with non-specific endpoints. A different methodology was adopted for the evaluation of the endocrine toxicity endpoint since data currently available do not permit the establishment of a clear causal link between endocrine active chemicals and adverse effects in humans. Therefore, this endpoint was analysed by estimating the human exposure to oestrogenic environmental chemicals and evaluating their potential impact on human health, based on their contribution to the overall exposure, and their estrogenic potency relative to endogenous hormones. The allergenicity endpoint was not analysed as such. It was addressed in a separate section because this issue is not relevant to the overall population but rather to subsets of susceptible individuals, and allergic risks are usually controlled by other means (i.e. labelling) than the Threshold of Toxicological Concern approach. (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED)

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