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Open Access Open Badges Review

Human exposure to nitro musks and the evaluation of their potential toxicity: an overview

Kathryn M Taylor1*, Marc Weisskopf12 and James Shine1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA

2 Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA

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Environmental Health 2014, 13:14  doi:10.1186/1476-069X-13-14

Published: 11 March 2014


Synthetic nitro musks are fragrant chemicals found in household and personal care products. The use of these products leads to direct exposures via dermal absorption, as well as inhalation of contaminated dust and volatilized fragrances. Evidence also suggests that humans are exposed to low doses of these chemicals through oral absorption of contaminated liquids and foods. As these compounds are lipophilic, they and their metabolites, have been found not only in blood, but also breast milk and adipose tissue. After personal use, these environmentally persistent pollutants then pass through sewage treatment plants through their effluent into the environment.

Little is known about the biological effects in humans after such a prolonged low dose exposure to these chemicals. While epidemiologic studies evaluating the effects of nitro musk exposures are lacking, there is limited evidence that suggest blood levels of nitro musks are inversely related to luteal hormone levels. This is supported by animal models and laboratory studies that have shown that nitro musks are weakly estrogenic. Nitro musks exposure has been associated with an increased risk of tumor formation in mice. The evidence suggests that while nitro musks by themselves are not genotoxic, they may increase the genotoxicity of other chemicals. However, animal models for nitro musk exposure have proven to be problematic since certain outcomes are species specific. This may explain why evidence for developmental effects in animals is conflicting and inconclusive. Given that animal models and cell-line experiments are suggestive of adverse outcomes, further epidemiologic studies are warranted.

Nitro musks; Fragrance; Persistent pollutant; Review