Some science behind the scenes

Phthalates

Phthalates or phthalate esters, are esters of phthalic acid. They are mainly used as plasticizers, i.e., substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity. They are used primarily to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

Lower-molecular-weight phthalates, those derived from C3-C6 alcohols, are being gradually replaced in many products in the United States, Canada, and European Union over health concerns - they are endocrine disruptors.

In 2010, the market was still dominated by high-phthalate plasticizers; however, due to legal provisions and growing environmental awareness and perceptions, "producers are increasingly forced[sic] to use non-phthalate plasticizers."

Phthalates are used in a large variety of products including food and pharmaceutical products which are ingested, making its role in health problems related to reproductive system diseases that much more worrying, it is used for example in :

  • coatings of pharmaceutical pills and nutritional supplements
  • viscosity control agents
  • gelling agents,
  • film formers,
  • stabilizers,
  • dispersants,
  • lubricants,
  • binders,
  • emulsifying agents, and
  • suspending agents.


Many medications are made using phthalates . A study found that exposures from phthalate-containing medications can far exceed population levels from other sources. DBP in medications raises concern about health risks due to the high level of exposures associated with taking these medications, especially in vulnerable segments of the population, including pregnant women and children.

End-applications include

  • adhesives and glues,
  • agricultural adjuvants,
  • building materials,
  • personal-care products,
  • medical devices,
  • detergents and surfactants,
  • packaging,
  • children's toys,
  • modelling clay,
  • waxes,
  • paints,
  • printing inks and coatings,
  • pharmaceuticals,
  • food products, and
  • textiles.

 

Phthalates are also frequently used in soft plastic fishing lures, caulk, paint pigments, and sex toys made of so-called "jelly rubber".

Phthalates are used in a variety of household applications such as shower curtains, vinyl upholstery, adhesives, floor tiles, food containers and wrappers, and cleaning materials.

Personal-care items containing phthalates include perfume, eye shadow, moisturizer, nail polish, liquid soap, and hair spray.  Phthalates are also found in catheters and blood transfusion devices.

In general, children's exposure to phthalates is greater than that of adults. In a 1990s Canadian study that modeled ambient exposures, it was estimated that daily exposure to DEHP was 9 μg/kg bodyweight/day in infants, 19 μg/kg bodyweight/day in toddlers, 14 μg/kg bodyweight/day in children, and 6 μg/kg bodyweight/day in adults.

Infants and toddlers are at the greatest risk of exposure, because of their mouthing behavior.

Body-care products containing phthalates are a source of exposure for infants. The authors of a 2008 study "observed that reported use of infant lotion, infant powder, and infant shampoo were associated with increased infant urine concentrations of [phthalate metabolites], and this association is strongest in younger infants. These findings suggest that dermal exposures may contribute significantly to phthalate body burden in this population." Though they did not examine health outcomes, they noted that "Young infants are more vulnerable to the potential adverse effects of phthalates given their increased dosage per unit body surface area, metabolic capabilities, and developing endocrine and reproductive systems."

 

Observations

For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.