Phthalates, called “plasticizers,” are a group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more flexible or resilient and also as solvents.   Phthalates are nearly ubiquitous in modern society, found in, among other things, toys, food packaging, hoses, raincoats, shower curtains, vinyl flooring, wall coverings, lubricants, adhesives, detergents, nail polish, hair spray and shampoo.

Health Effects related to Phthalates: Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Endocrine system, Reproduction and fertility, Birth or developmental effects, Persistent and bioaccumulative, Brain and nervous system, Immune system (including sensitization and allergies)

In July 2008, as a result of pressure from health groups, the U.S. Congress passed legislation banning six phthalates from children’s toys and cosmetics.  Legislators in Washington, Vermont and California have restricted phthalate use in children’s goods, and several major retailers, including Wal-Mart, Toys-R-Us, Lego, Evenflo and Gerber say they will phase out phthalate-laden toys.

Routes of Exposure related to Phthalates:

  • Air: industrial air pollution
  • Consumer products: adhesives, detergents, flooring, inks, paints and coatings, plastics, rubber
  • Environment: agriculture, industrial water pollution
  • Found in people
  • Miscellaneous: medical tubing, rocket propellent
  • Personal care products: deodorant, fragrances, hand lotion, insect repellent, shampoo, soap
  • Water: sewage sludge, tap water, water treatment

You’ll rarely find the word “phthalates” on a label (except for the  occasional “phthalate-free,” which is helpful). Here are three tips for identifying products that have, or are likely to  have, phthalates or another compound that has raised similar concerns and is found in similar products, Bisphenol A.

  1. Read the ingredients. According to the organization Pollution in People, you can identify phthalates in some  products by their chemical names, or abbreviations:
    • DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate) and DEP  (diethyl phthalate) are often found in personal care products, including nail  polishes, deodorants, perfumes and cologne, aftershave lotions, shampoos, hair  gels and hand lotions. (BzBP, see below, is also in some personal care  products.)
    • DEHP(di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate or Bis (2-ethylhexyl)  phthalate) is used in PVC plastics, including some medical devices.
    • BzBP(benzylbutyl phthalate) is used in some flooring, car  products and personal care products.
    • DMP (dimethyl phthalate) is used in insect repellent and  some plastics (as well as rocket propellant).
  2. Be wary of the term “fragrance,” which is used to denote a combination of  compounds, possibly including phthatates, which are a subject of recent concern  because of studies showing they can mimic certain hormones.
  3. Choose plastics with the recycling code 1, 2 or 5. Recycling codes 3 and 7  are more likely to contain bisphenol A or phthalates.

Sources: The Daily Green.