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Description of key information

A number of sub-chronic and chronic studies on boric acid and disodium tetraborate decahydrate were carried out in rats, mice and dogs. In some cases these studies are research studies (Dixon et al, 1976; Seal and Weeth, 1980; Lee et al., 1978; Treinen and Chapin, 1991; Ku et al., 1993), but most support that boron can cause adverse haematological effects and that the main target organ of boron toxicity is the testis. The NOAEL is equivalent to 17.5 mg B/kg bw/day.

Key value for chemical safety assessment

Repeated dose toxicity: via oral route - systemic effects

Endpoint conclusion
Dose descriptor:
94.6 mg/kg bw/day
Study duration:

Additional information

A number of studies on boric acid or disodium tetraborate decahydrate in diet or via drinking water for periods of 30 days to two years in rats, mice and dogs are available, however, the majority of these studies do not comply with current test guidelines, and they lack essential information regarding e. g. histological descriptions and statistical evaluations of the results. Most studies support that boron can cause adverse haematological effects and that the main target organ of boron toxicity is the testis. Other effects observed at high doses include rapid respiration, hunched position, bloody nasal discharge; urine stains on the abdomen, inflamed bleeding eyes, desquamation and swollen paws and tail, reduced food consumption and body weight gain. Treatment with boric acid and disodium tetraborate decahydrate disrupted spermiation, induced degeneration of testicular tubules and caused testicular atrophy. For effects on the blood system extramedullary haematopoiesis, reduced red cell volume and haemoglobin values and deposition of haemosiderin in spleen, liver and proximal tubules of the kidney were described. Several cases of anaemia have been observed in human poisoning cases. However, although doses in these poisoning cases are difficult to define, the effects occurred generally at relatively high concentrations.

Boric acid, the main species present under physiological conditions, acts as a Lewis acid and as such owns the ability to complex with hydroxyl, amino and thiol groups from diverse biomolecules, like e. g. carbohydrates and proteins (BfR, 2006). Such a mechanism could be involved in effects of boron on different enzyme activities (Huel et al., 2004).

A NOAEL for effects on testes and the blood system of 17.5 mg B/kg bw/day can be derived (with a LOAEL of 58.5 mg B/kg bwday) from two 2-year studies in rats on boric acid and disodium tetraborate decahydrate (Weir, 1966a, b).

The following oral data were obtained (NOAEL):

Dipotassium tetraborate (anhydrous): 94.6 mg/kg bw/day

Dipotassium tetraborate (tetrahydrate): 123.7 mg/kg bw/day

Read Across

A number of these studies were conducted on an analogue substance. Read-across is justified on the following basis:

In aqueous solutions at physiological and acidic pH, low concentrations of simple inorganic borates such as boric acid B(OH)3, potassium pentaborate (K2B10O16.8H2O), potassium tetraborate (K2B4O7.4H2O), disodium tetraborate decahydrate (Na2B4O7.10H2O; borax), disodium tetraborate pentahydrate (Na2B4O7.5H2O; borax pentahydrate), boric oxide (B2O3) and disodium octaborate tetrahydrate (Na2B8O13.4H2O) will predominantly exist as undissociated boric acid. Above pH 9 the metaborate anion (B(OH)4-) becomes the main species in solution (WHO, 1998). This leads to the conclusion that the main species in the plasma of mammals and in the environment is undissociated boric acid. Since other borates dissociate to form boric acid in aqueous solutions, they too can be considered to exist as undissociated boric acid under the same conditions.

For comparative purposes, exposures to borates are often expressed in terms of boron (B) equivalents based on the fraction of boron in the source substance on a molecular weight basis. Some studies express dose in terms of B, whereas other studies express the dose in units of boric acid. Since the systemic effects and some of the local effects can be traced back to boric acid, results from one substance can be transferred to also evaluate the another substance on the basis of boron equivalents. Therefore data obtained from studies with these borates can be read across in the human health assessment for each individual substance. Conversion factors are given in the table under CSR section 5.1.3, which corresponds to IUCLID section 7.1 (toxicokinetics, metabolism and distribution endpoint summary).


WHO. Guidelines for drinking-water quality, Addendum to Volume 1, 1998

Repeated dose toxicity: via oral route - systemic effects (target organ) urogenital: testes

Justification for classification or non-classification

Boric acid and disodium tetraborate are classified under the 1stATP to CLP as Repr. 1B; H360FD.

However, text of the 30th ATP as published in the EU Official Journal, 15 September 2008 stated that “The classification and labelling of the substances listed in this Directive should be reviewed if new scientific knowledge becomes available. In this respect, considering recent preliminary, partial and not peer-reviewed information submitted by industry, special attention should be paid to further results of epidemiological studies on the Borates concerned by this Directive including the ongoing study conducted in…”

While boron has been shown to adversely affect male reproduction in laboratory animals, there was no clear evidence of male reproductive effects attributable to boron in studies of highly exposed workers (Whorton et al. 1994; Sayli 1998, 2001; Robbins et al. 2010; Scialli et al. 2010). Not only are these the most exposed workers, but the Chinese worker study is themost sensitive study that has been carried out as semen analysis was performed, a very sensitive detection system for testicular damage. There is no evidence of developmental effects in humans attributable to boron in studies of populations with high exposures to boron (Tuccar et al 1998; Col et al. 2000; Chang et al. 2006).

A weight of evidence approach was used in evaluating numerous independent studies on the determination of the hazard of boric acid to humans. Information that was considered together included results of in vitro tests, animal data, occupational exposure data, epidemiological studies and mechanistic data.

Extensive evaluations of sperm parameters in highly exposed workers in Turkey and China have demonstrated no effects on male fertility. No evidence of developmental effects in humans attributable to boron (B) has been observed in studies of populations with high exposures to boron. Although the epidemiological studies have methodological deficiencies, collectively these studies consistently show an absence of effects in highly exposed populations.

Workers in boron mining and processing industries represent the maximum possible human exposure. However a comparison of blood, semen and target organ boron levels in studies of laboratory animals and human studies shows that boron industry worker exposures are lower than untreated control rats.

Mechanistic data provide possible explanations for the absence of developmental and reproductive effects in humans exposed to high levels of boron. Recent studies provide evidence that boric acid may act by similar mechanisms in causing developmental effects in mice as sodium salycilate (the natural deacetylated form of aspirin and a rodent teratogen) including effects on Hox gene expression and inhibition of embryonic histone deacetylases. Although aspirin is known to cause developmental effects in laboratory animals, controlled human studies have not demonstrated developmental effects in humans. Similar mechanisms of action of boric acid and aspirin, and the absence of developmental effects in humans ingesting aspirin suggest that boric acid related developmental effects in humans are unlikely. 

Additionally, zinc levels in soft tissue in humans is over 2 times greater than in comparative tissues in rats (King et al. 2000; Yamaguchi et al. 1996), which explain in part the absence of fertility and developmental effects in humans. Zinc has been shown to protect against testicular toxicity of cobalt and cadmium (Anderson et al. 1993), and the developmental effects of cadmium (Fernandez et al. 2003). There is evidence that zinc interacts with boric acid in the body reducing the toxicity of boric acid. The interaction of zinc and boric acid is evident by the low acute toxicity of zinc borate (absorbed as boric acid and zinc) with a LD50 value greater than 10,000 mg/kg-body weight in rats (Daniels 1969) compared to disodium tetraborate pentahydrat\e (similar % boron composition as zinc borate) with a LD50 value of 3300 mg/kg-body weight. Furthermore, no toxic effects were observed in the testes of males (a target organ of boric acid) administered 1000 mg zinc borate/kg/day in a 28-day repeated dose oral gavage toxicity study, equivalent dose of boron of 50 mg B/kg bodyweight (Wragg et al. 1996). The LOAEL for testicular effects is 26 mg B/kg body weight. 

Based on the total weight of evidence, the data show that it is improbable that boric acid will cause reproductive or developmental effects in humans.

Therefore, based on a total weight of evidence, Category 2 H361d: suspected human reproductive toxicant, suspected of damaging the unborn child is considered the appropriate classification. Extensive evaluations of sperm parameters in highly exposed workers have demonstrated no effects on male fertility. While no developmental effects have been seen in highly exposed populations, epidemiological studies of developmental effects are not as robust as the fertility studies, warranting the Category 2 H361d.