Thompson CM, Bhat VS, Brorby GP, Haws LC. 2021. Development of updated RfD and RfC values for medium carbon range aromatic and aliphatic total petroleum hydrocarbon fractions. J Air Waste Manag Assoc 71(12):1555–1567, doi: 10.1080/10962247.2021.1974123.
Using total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH) measurements as a tool for assessing potential human health risks associated with exposures to petroleum products in the environment poses unique challenges, as TPH represents highly variable and complex mixtures containing hundreds of individual chemicals with wide-ranging chemical and physical properties. Current risk assessment practice generally involves analysis of environmental samples for various TPH fractions and summation of risk across those fractions. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) derived provisional toxicity criteria for low, medium, and high carbon range aromatic and aliphatic hydrocarbon fractions over a decade ago. These criteria have been used, in whole or in part, to derive risk-based cleanup levels for TPH contamination in soil and groundwater. Herein, we evaluate and update oral and inhalation toxicity criteria for two of these fractions – medium carbon range aromatics and aliphatics – using, where applicable, newer data, updated modeling techniques, and new/alternative analyses of certain endpoints, human relevance, and uncertainty. The results of the analyses support an ~10-fold increase in the USEPA provisional reference concentration (p-RfC) values from 0.1 mg/m3 to 1 mg/m3 for both medium carbon range aromatics (different uncertainty factor) and aliphatics (new study and different judgment of toxicity data from existing study). Compared to the USEPA provisional oral reference dose (p-RfD) values for the medium carbon range aromatics and aliphatics of 0.03 mg/kg-day and 0.01 mg/kg-day, respectively, the present analyses suggest the RfD for medium carbon range aromatics could be increased >6.6-fold to 0.2 mg/kg-day (updated modeling and different uncertainty factors), and the RfD for medium carbon range aliphatics could be increased ~20-fold to 0.2 mg/kg-day (new study). These updated toxicity criteria could be used by regulatory agencies to reevaluate risk-based screening levels or by risk managers to support cleanup levels for medium carbon range aromatics and aliphatics, while still ensuring adequate health protection.
Implications: Petroleum products represent complex mixtures of hydrocarbons broadly comprised of aliphatic compounds (straight-chain, branched-chain, and cyclic alkanes and alkenes) and aromatic compounds such as benzene, alkylbenzenes, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The complex nature of petroleum products presents challenges for assessing potential health risks associated with exposure to petroleum hydrocarbon contamination in the environment. It has been over ten years since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency derived provisional toxicity criteria for low, medium, and high carbon range aromatic and aliphatic hydrocarbon fractions. In that time, risk assessment guidance and tools have evolved, and new studies have been published. Our analyses indicate that current provisional toxicity criteria for medium carbon range aromatics and aliphatics fractions are overly conservative by approximately an order of magnitude.