DNTP studies health effects of potentially toxic chemical from refineries
Research from the Division of the National Toxicology Program demonstrated differences across species in response to exposure to sulfolane, a potentially toxic compound used during industrial refining. Originally developed by Shell Oil Company in the 1950s, sulfolane has been detected in groundwater sources near refining sites. Currently, there are no federal regulatory limits for sulfolane levels in drinking water. Health effects of this chemical on humans have not been well-characterized, particularly after oral exposure.
Due to potentially large species differences, the researchers compared the effects of sulfolane on rats, mice, and guinea pigs after 28 days of oral exposure to a wide range of doses. Male rats appeared to be the most sensitive to the compound, showing evidence of kidney abnormalities, while guinea pigs appeared to be the least sensitive. Sulfolane induced lesions in different tissues across the three species. In addition, plasma levels were generally higher in rats and guinea pigs compared to mice, which corresponded to observed effects.
As the risk assessment of sulfolane continues, according to the authors, the results could aid in the interpretation of previous and future toxicity data. Ultimately, this line of research may provide health guidance on exposure to sulfolane. (JW)
Citation: Shipkowski KA, Cora MC, Cesta MF, Robinson VG, Waidyanatha S, Witt KL, Vallant MK, Fallacara DM, Hejtmancik MR, Masten SA, Cooper SD, Fernando RA, Blystone CR. 2021. Comparison of sulfolane effects in Sprague Dawley rats, B6C3F1/N mice, and Hartley guinea pigs after 28 days of exposure via oral gavage. Toxicol Rep 8:581–591.