Phthalates
Trade Secrets

Example: DEHP
also called Bis(2ethylhexyl)phthalate or di(2ethylhexyl)phthalate

DBP
also called Di-n-butyl phthalate


Potential health effects in humans and animals:

DEHP is known to cause liver cancer in rats and mice and is classified by the Federal government as a probable human carcinogen.

DBP is not classified as a carcinogen, but it does cause mutations in animal studies – which means it may have a cancer risk. Both DEHP and DBP exhibit endocrine-disrupting properties in laboratory studies. In animals, both DEHP and DBP are toxic to the liver, kidneys, testes and nervous system and cause birth defects, still births and developmental effects, including decreased testicular weight and lower sperm production in males exposed in the womb.

Phthalate esters or phthalates, which are similar in appearance to cooking oil, are added to hard polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to make it soft and flexible. They are used to soften PVC plastic in products such as vinyl upholstery, tablecloths, shower curtains, toys, raincoats, floor tiles, car interiors, food containers and wrappers, and medical supplies. They are commonly used in cosmetics and sometimes as coatings on pills. Phthalates are also used as insulators in electrical equipment, as a replacement for PCBs.

Phthalates have become so ubiquitous in the environment that levels of DEHP in Moyers' blood test were measured in parts per million. All the other chemicals were in parts per billion or parts per trillion.

In July 2000, an expert panel of the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences expressed concern "that exposure of pregnant women to current estimated adult exposure levels of DEHP might adversely affect the development of their offspring." The panel also expressed concern that "if infants and toddlers are exposed to levels of DEHP substantially higher than adults, adverse effects might occur in the developing male reproductive tract."

Of the dozens of phthalates, those of greatest concern are the following:

Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate or DEHP – used in plastic food packaging, medical bags for blood and intravenous solutions, and children's toys, teethers, and pacifiers. In 1986, the EPA categorized DEHP as a "probable human carcinogen," following the lead of the National Toxicology Program. DEHP is one of the most widely used phthalates and also the most toxic. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, also in 1986, asked manufacturers to voluntarily remove or reduce concentrations of DEHP in toys. The use of DEHP in intravenous medical bags, however, continues amid dueling scientific theories on its health hazards to humans.

Diisononyl phthalate or DINP – used as a replacement for DEHP in children's toys, pacifiers and teethers; exposures to young children are from chewing or mouthing these products. In 1998, the Consumer Product Safety Commission called for a voluntary ban on DINP in toys. In June 2000, a coalition of public interest groups released results of independent testing which found that U.S.-made bath and squeeze toys still contained high amounts of phthalates. Imported teethers contained as much as 55 percent phthalates by weight.

Dibutyl Phthalate or DBP is used extensively in perfumes, nail polishes, lotions and hair sprays, as well as wood stains and varnishes. DBP easily penetrates the skin. High levels of exposure have been found in women of reproductive age. DBP is now known to cause a broad range of birth defects and lifelong reproductive impairment in male laboratory animals exposed in-utero and shortly after birth.

Several scientific studies have indicated that phthalates can leak from consumer products and can be ingested – a fact undisputed by the American Chemistry Council. Phthalates in high doses are known to cause damage to the brain, liver, kidney and reproductive organs in laboratory animals. However, there is no consensus on the extent of cancer or other health threats to humans. Phthalates in low doses are suspected of being hormone disrupters, too, but because of the inadequacies of available research, there is continuing disagreement over whether phthalates cause reproductive havoc.

The use of phthalates in infant's and children's toys is particularly controversial. European and other foreign countries have individually imposed bans on certain types of phthalates in children's toys, but the United States has no mandatory prohibitions. Unlike the U.S., many of these governments have embraced the "precautionary principle," which advocates safeguarding of public health and the environment even amidst some scientific uncertainty.

For more information:

pdf - National Toxicology Program, 9th Report on Carcinogens

Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 108, Number 10, October 2000 - Levels of Seven Urinary Phthalate Metabolites in a Human Reference Population

Environmental Working Group - Beauty Secrets

National Environmental Trust - Toxic Toys

Care Without Harm

The Use of Di-2-Ethyhexyl Phthalate in PVC Medical Devices: Exposure, Toxicity and Alternatives Heed the Warnings

Full list of sources available via e-mail

Baby with toy
In June 2000, a coalition of public interest groups released results of independent testing which found that U.S.-made bath and squeeze toys still contained high amounts of phthalate.






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