Phthalates (pronounced THA-lates) are a group of chemicals that can make plastics softer and more flexible.
They are used in a variety of different plastic products found around the home, including shower curtains, children’s toys, some squeezable bottles, cosmetics and perfumes.
Yes, the rubber duck or doll your child chews on could well contain phthalates. And that new car smell, which becomes especially strong after the car has been sitting in the sun for a few hours, is partly the smell of phthalates volatilizing from the dashboard.
There are several types of phthalates, each used in particular types of products:
- DEHP (diethylhexyl phthalate) is the most common and is used mostly in PVC plastics. (If that rubber duck is made from a soft, squeezable plastic, it is probably made from PVC.)
- DINP (di-isononyl phthalate) is sometimes used in PVC plastics, including children’s toys.
- DBP (dibutyl phthalate) and DEP (diethyl phthalate) are most often used in cosmetics.
In common with BPA, phthalates are endocrine disruptors. They can upset normal hormonal balance in our bodies, stimulate the growth and development of cancers (breast, uterine, prostate), impair fertility, and disrupt pregnancy.
Other illnesses are now being associated with exposure to phthalates, including heart disease, behavioral problems in children and asthma.
People are constantly exposed to phthalates, both inside our homes, and outside.
What is being done to control the use of phthalates in household products?
As with BPA, there are few regulations on the use of phthalates at the government level. And, as always, the chemical industry insists these chemicals are harmless.
However, in July 2008, the U.S. Congress did pass legislation banning six phthalates from children’s toys, and cosmetics. Legislators in Washington, Vermont and California have restricted phthalate use in children’s goods. Several major retailers, including Wal-Mart, Toys-R-Us, Lego, Evenflo and Gerber say they will phase out phthalate-laden toys.
Your first steps in reducing your family’s exposure to phthalates.
The first thing you should do is try to reduce your children’s exposure to phthalates. Children are particularly vulnerable to endocrine disruption caused by these chemicals.
This means rooting through the toy box and trying to identify toys which are marked with the recycling number 3. Of course, most toys won’t have that number or the recycling symbols. But what you are looking for is toys made from PVC. These are the soft plastic toys. Soft balls, soft plastic dolls and so on.
Phthalates are also found in PVC shower curtains, and in a host of other products in your bathroom – like shampoos. Yes, phthalates is even found in some baby shampoos.