The Margin of Exposure to Formaldehyde in Alcoholic Beverages
Formaldehyde has been classified as carcinogenic to humans (WHO IARC group 1). It causes leukaemia and nasopharyngeal cancer, and was described to regularly occur in alcoholic beverages. However, its risk associated with consumption of alcohol has not been systematically studied, so this study will provide the first risk assessment of formaldehyde for consumers of alcoholic beverages.
Human dietary intake of formaldehyde via alcoholic beverages in the European Union was estimated based on WHO alcohol consumption data and literature on formaldehyde contents of different beverage groups (beer, wine, spirits, and unrecorded alcohol). The risk assessment was conducted using the margin of exposure (MOE) approach with benchmark doses (BMD) for 10 % effect obtained from dose-response modelling of animal experiments.
For tumours in male rats, a BMD of 30 mg kg-1 body weight per day and a "BMD lower confidence limit" (BMDL) of 23 mg kg-1 d-1 were calculated from available long-term animal experiments. The average human exposure to formaldehyde from alcoholic beverages was estimated at 8·10-5 mg kg-1 d-1. Comparing the human exposure with BMDL, the resulting MOE was above 200,000 for average scenarios. Even in the worst-case scenarios, the MOE was never below 10,000, which is considered to be the threshold for public health concerns.
The risk assessment shows that the cancer risk from formaldehyde to the alcohol-consuming population is negligible and the priority for risk management (e.g. to reduce the contamination) is very low. The major risk in alcoholic beverages derives from ethanol and acetaldehyde.
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