[info] The Stink on Phthalates

What on earth are phthalates? 

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastic and vinyl, and are used in hundreds of consumer products.

A key component of products such as flexible plastic and vinyl toys, food packaging, and plastic wrap, in the USA, Phthalates are also used in cosmetics and personal care products, including perfume, hair spray, soap, shampoo, nail polish, and skin moisturizers. 

Phthalates were also used to make baby items, such as pacifiers, soft rattles, and teethers, but because they are so toxic, at the request of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, U.S. manufacturers of baby items stopped using phthalates in 1999.

And why are they bad?
While the human health effects of phthalates are not yet fully known, several government agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the National Toxicology Program’s Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction are in the midst of epic studies on their long term effects.

Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate is listed as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” in the Fourteenth Report on Carcinogens published by the National Toxicology Program.

The National Toxicology Program concluded that high levels of one phthalate, di-n-butyl phthalate, may adversely affect human reproduction or development.

High levels of exposure to di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate through the use of medical tubing and other plastic devices for feeding, medicating, and assisting the breathing of newborn infants affects the development of the male reproductive system, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

In 2001, the CDC published a report noting elevated levels of phthalates excreted by women of child-bearing age due to the use of cosmetics. Does this have a direct correlation to breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and reproductive issues? TBD, as these are very tricky correlations to prove. But it certainly is not good that we have such high levels of a toxic chemical in our bodies. 

Here’s some serious reports, if you want an in depth analysis:

Check the Kind of Plastics You Use (Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center) (PDF — 1.24 MB)
Cosmetics - Phthalates (Food and Drug Administration)
DEHP in Plastic Medical Devices (Food and Drug Administration)
Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP). ToxFAQs (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)
Di-n-butyl Phthalate. ToxFAQs (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)
Di-n-octylphthalate (DNOP). ToxFAQs (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)
Diethyl Phthalate. ToxFAQs (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)
Phthalate Esters. Haz-Map (National Library of Medicine)
Phthalates and Bisphenol A (Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units) (PDF — 196.10 KB)
Phthalates. Fact Sheet (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
PVC - A Major Source of Phthalates (New Jersey Department of Human Services)

Laena McCarthy