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Key value for chemical safety assessment

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Zinc compounds release, depending on their solubility, zinc cations which determine the biological activity of the respective zinc compounds.

Sufficient data is available on the soluble zinc compounds zinc chloride and zinc sulphate and on the slightly soluble zinc compounds ZnO and ZnCO3.

Zinc is an essential trace element which is regulated and maintained in the various tissues mainly by the gastrointestinal absorption and secretion during high and low dietary zinc intake and because of the limited exchange of zinc between tissues, a constant supply of zinc is required to sustain the physiological requirements. The zinc absorption process in the intestines includes both passive diffusion and a carrier-mediated process. The absorption can be influenced by several factors such as ligands in the diet and the zinc status. Persons with adequate nutritional levels absorb 20-30% and animals absorb 40-50%. Persons that are zinc deficient absorb more, while persons with excessive zinc intake absorb less.

For the soluble zinc compounds, the available information suggests an oral absorption value of 20%. This value can be considered as the lower bound range at adequate nutritional levels. The oral absorption of the slightly soluble zinc oxide has been shown to be 60% of that of the soluble zinc compounds. This corresponds to approximately 12-18%. No oral absorption information is available for the remaining slightly soluble and insoluble zinc compounds (i.e., Zn(OH)2, Zn3(PO4)2, ZnCO3, Zn, ZnS). However, considering that these substances have lower water solubility than ZnO, it can be conservatively assumed that the oral absorption of these compounds is ≤ 12%.

Animal data suggests that there is pulmonary absorption following inhalation exposure. Half-life values of 14 and 6.3 hours were reported for dissolution of zinc oxide. The absorption of inhaled zinc depends on the particle size and the deposition of these particles therefore data was provided on the particle size distribution of zinc aerosol from three different industry sectors. The particle size distribution data was evaluated by using a multiple path particle deposition (MPPD) model. This model revealed that for zinc aerosols the largest part of the deposition is in the head region and much less in the tracheobronchial and pulmonary region. Although most of the material deposited in the head and tracheobronchial region is rapidly translocated to the gastrointestinal tract, a part will also be absorbed locally.

Based on data for local absorption of radionuclides in the different airway regions, it can be assumed that the local absorption of the soluble zinc compounds will be approximately 20% of the material deposited in the head region, 50% of the material deposited in the tracheobronchial region and 100% of the material deposited in the pulmonary region. For the slightly soluble and insoluble zinc compounds a negligible absorption can be assumed for materials deposited in the head and the tracheobronchial region. 100% of the deposited slightly or insoluble zinc compounds are assumed to be absorbed in the pulmonary tract. The deposited material will be cleared via the lung clearance mechanisms into the gastrointestinal tract where it will follow oral absorption kinetics. Therefore the inhalation absorption for the soluble zinc compounds is a maximum of 40% and for the slightly soluble and insoluble zinc compounds inhalation absorption is at a maximum of 20%. These values can be assumed as a reasonable worst case, because they are considered to cover existing differences between the different zinc industry sectors with respect to the type of exercise activities (and thus breathing rate) and particle size distribution.

The available information from in vivo as well as the in vitro studies suggests the dermal absorption of zinc compounds through intact skin to be less than 2%.In vitrostudies that estimated dermal absorption values only on the basis of the zinc levels in the receptor medium without taking into account the zinc present in the stratum corneum appear to underestimate absorption values derived from in vivo studies. Such zinc trapped in the skin layers may become systemically available at a later stage. Quantitative data to evaluate the relevance of this skin depot are however lacking. Given the efficient homeostatic mechanisms of mammals to maintain the total body zinc and the physiologically required levels of zinc in the various tissues to be constant, the anticipated slow release of zinc from the skin is not expected to disturb the homeostatic zinc balance of the body. Considering the available information on dermal absorption, the default for dermal absorption of all zinc compounds (solutions or suspensions) is 2%. Based on the physical appearance, for dust exposure to zinc and zinc compounds a 10-fold lower default value of 0.2% is a reasonable assumption.

Zinc appears to be distributed to all tissues and tissue fluids and it is a cofactor in over 200 enzyme systems. The excretion of zinc is primarily via faeces, but also via urine, saliva, hair loss, sweat and mothers-milk.