Substitutes for natural musks have been around since the first synthetic musk was found by chance in Dr. Albert Baur's laboratory in the late 1890s. Since the discovery of the first synthetic musk, a variety of musks have been synthesized, with different chemical structures. Synthetic musks are used in consumer products of all kinds, as a substitute for natural musk because of their pleasant odor, inexpensive synthesis, and their binding affinity to fabrics. In the early 1990s, polycyclic musks were found in environmental samples, wildlife, and humans from Europe. This was the beginning of the research pertaining to dynamics and fate of this new group of environmental pollutants.
Polycyclic musks are similar to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in terms of persistence and lipophilicity. There is continuous input of polycyclic musks to the environment because of their ongoing production and use; because of this, polycyclic musks are widespread in the environment. Unlike POPs, whose concentrations in the environment are decreasing, polycyclic musk concentrations, particularly 1,3,4,6,7,8-hexahydro-4,6,6,7,8,8-hexamethyl-cyclopenta-[γ]-2-benzopyran (HHCB) and 7-acetyl-1,1,3,4,4,6-hexamethyl-1,2,3,4-tetrahydronapthalene (AHTN), are increasing. As a result of their lipophilicity, polycyclic musks are found in sediments and in the fatty tissues of many organisms. Concentrations of polycyclic musks in human tissue samples do not correlate with age. Occurrence of polycyclic musks in humans is primarily the result of absorption through the skin. Human exposure can vary depending on consumer habits related to the use of personal care or household products. High levels of contamination by polycyclic musks have been found in wastewater treatment plants receiving discharges from residential and commercial areas.
This dissertation is an evaluation of polycyclic musks in environmental and human samples collected from several locations in the United States. In this dissertation, the levels of polycyclic musks in some personal care products, mass flow of musks in wastewater treatment plants, distribution of musks in different environmental compartments (water and sediment) and wildlife (fish, birds, marine mammals), and the accumulation of polycyclic musk compounds in humans are examined. Distribution and accumulation features in the environment and humans are discussed to further understand the behavior of polycyclic musks.