Phthalates (pronounced “thah-lates”) are esters of phthalic acid. The most common use for them is as a “plasticiser” – i.e. that which makes plastics flexible and not brittle. Have you noticed how plastic over time becomes hard and brittle? That’s because phthalates are not chemically bound to the plastic and leach out (or “off-gas”). Phthalates are also used as adhesives, solvents, lubricants, and to help fragrance last longer.
The most common phthalate substances are:
- DBP (dibutyl phthalate)
- DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate)
- DiNP (diisononyl phthalate)
- DEP (diethyl phthalate)
- BBzP (benzyl butyl phthalate)
- DEHP (di 2-ethylhexl phthalate)
- DiDP (diisodecyl phthalate)
- DnHP (di-n-hexyl phthalate)
- DMP (dimethyl phthalate)
- DnOP (di-n-octylphthalate)
For a complete list, please visit here.
Phthalates Are Used in
Phthalate chemicals are used in plastics, food packaging, fatty foods (such as non-organic milk, butter, and meats), cosmetics, pharmaceuticals (enteric coatings of pharmaceutical tablets and nutritional supplements), personal care products including baby care products, building materials (flooring), modeling clay, automobiles, cleaning materials, medical devices (catheters, IV- and blood bags), insecticides, ink, paint, adhesives and glues, electronics, sex toys, cables and wires, and coating of fabric.
Phthalates’ Health Impact
- Interfere with normal functioning of hormone system (e.g. early puberty, late puberty, infertility, etc.)
- DEHP, one of the phthalates, is classified as a “probable carcinogen” by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Prenatal exposure may lead to shortened anogenital distance, nipple retention, and undescended testes in baby boys
- The Exposure to monomethyl phthalate is associated with early breast development
- BBP, DBP and DEHP phthalates are linked breast cancer
- Lower sperm count in adult males
- Increased incidence of developmental abnormalities such as cleft palate and skeletal malformations, and increased fetal death in experimental animal studies
- Phthalates cross the placental barrier, meaning that if the mom ingests them, they will, in all likelihood, find their way to the baby
How We Are Exposed to Phthalates
Because phthalate substances are everywhere and they are not bound to materials they are added to, it is almost impossible to avoid them altogether. Even unborn babies get exposed to them because they cross the placental barrier.
- Eating food wrapped in material containing phthalates
- Mouthing of toys containing phthalates can also result in the exposure
- Some drinking water might be contaminated
- Breathing in air that contains phthalate vapors or dust contaminated with phthalate particles
- Individuals receiving multiple treatments, feedings, or transfusions through medical tubing containing phthalates are likely to be exposed to phthalates. Infants in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) are one group of concern for phthalate exposure.
- Skin contact: Some cosmetics, fragrances, and lotions may contain them. Some insect repellents also contain them.
Phthalates Are Banned in the US
The US government has recently recognized the need to regulate the use of phthalates in children’s products.
According to the US Consumer Protection Safety Commission (“CPSC”), as of February 10, 2009, “Congress has permanently banned three types of phthalates (DEHP, DBP, BBP) in any amount greater than 0.1 percent (computed for each phthalate, individually) in (1) children’s toys and (2) certain child care articles.
Congress has also banned (on an interim basis) three additional types of phthalates (DINP, DIDP, DnOP) in any amount greater than 0.1 percent (computed for each phthalate individually) in (1) a children’s toy that can be placed in a child’s mouth, and (2) child care articles.”
Despite the fact that it has been illegal to sell children’s products containing certain phthalates since 2009, do not think that it is safe to get children’s toys manufactured after February 2009. There is a caveat to the enforcement of the law. Third-party testing of children’s products has been required only since January 1, 2012, for products manufactured after December 31, 2011 (source).
Some Ways to Reduce Exposure
As noted, they are everywhere, and there is no way to completely avoid them. To complicate things, phthalates are not listed as ingredients. However, we can definitely reduce our exposure to phthalates by taking some simple steps.
- Avoid plastic with recycling code 3: plastic #3 is PVC or vinyl type of plastic that has phthalates to make it flexible (examples include shower curtains, blinds, teething toys, vinyl mattress covers)
- Do not use cosmetics and personal care products with synthetic fragrance. Please look around my blog – all the products I recommend are void of synthetic fragrance.
- Use cosmetics and personal care products with ingredients you understand (see my list of harmful ingredients for some of the most notorious ingredients to avoid)
- Avoid scented candles and air fresheners
- Make your own cleaning products (see my post “My Homemade Cleaning Recipes”
- Dust with a damp rag and mop floors regularly
- Air out your house often
- If you have vinyl floors, lower your blinds to prevent direct sunshine onto the floors
- Air out your car before getting into it
- Inquire about the quality of water in your area to see if there is a need for filtration
- Avoid foods wrapped in plastic made with phthalate chemicals
- Make sure that bottles and products you use to feed your baby do not have phthalates
- Wooden toys are always the best choice. If you have to get plastic toys, buy hard plastic toys from companies that pledged not to use them such as Early Start, Little Tikes, Lego, Prime Time Playthings, Sassy, and Tiny Love.
- If you get hand-me-down toys, make sure that they are made of hard plastic
- Avoid waterproof crib mattresses and changing pads covered with vinyl. Choose non-waterproof mattress and changing pads instead or polyethylene covered mattresses (see my posts about crib mattresses and changing pads for more information)
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