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Pollutants > Phthalates

Phthalates (phthalate esters) are esters of phthalic acid. Phthalates are mainly used as plasticizers (materials added to plastics for increasing their flexibility).

Phthalates are primarily used to soften polyvinyl chloride. They are used in a large variety of products, from enteric coatings of pharmaceutical pills to viscosity control agents, gelling agents, film formers, stabilizers, dispersants, lubricants, binders, emulsifying agents, and suspending agents End applications include adhesives and glues, agricultural adjuvants, building materials, personal care products, detergents and surfactants, plastic objects, paints, printing inks and coatings, pharmaceuticals, food products and textiles. Phthalates are also frequently used in soft plastic fishing lures, nail polish, adhesives, caulk, paint pigments, and toys made of so-called “jelly rubber” Phthalates are used in a variety of household applications (shower curtains, adhesives, perfume), modern pop-culture electronics and medical applications such as catheters.

The most extensively used phthalates are the di-2-ethyl hexyl phthalate (DEHP), the diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP) and the diisononyl phthalate (DINP). DEHP is cheap and is the main plasticizer used in PVC.

Phthalates are being phased out of many products in the United States and European Union over health concerns.

Exposure & Effects

People are exposed to phthalates through consumer products, as well as diet and medical treatments. Phthalates may cause the following health problems:

Asthma - The occurrence of asthma has doubled in the United States in the last two decades. Some believes that the presence of phthalates in polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl) might be the cause, or one of the causes, of the increase in asthma.

Cancer - Results of a rodent study conducted by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) indicated that rats and mice fed very high doses of a phthalate called DEHP for their entire lifetimes (2 years) ultimately developed tumors.

Endocrine disruption -  The endocrine system produces the hormones that regulate the body’s various processes, such as metabolism and reproduction, which are vital to the chemistry of life. In studies of rodents exposed to certain phthalates, high doses have been shown to change hormone levels and cause birth defects.

Report recommends cumulative risk assessment for phthalates
A report from the National Research Council says that the Environmental Protection Agency should check if combined phthalate exposure could cause harmful human health effects, especially to the male reproductive system... Read More
Advocacy groups sue CPSC over phthalates
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is being sued by two public advocacy groups. The lawsuit, which alleges that the commission is acting illegally by not planning to fully implement a new ban on toys containing toxic chemicals, was filed on Thursday by Natural Resources Defense Council and Public Citizen... Read More

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