Warning: Phthalates Poison

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What are phthalates?

Phthalates are a family of very common chemicals used in a variety of products, from children's toys, hard plastics or polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl), certain cosmetics, wood finishes to intravenous fluid bags. Traces of these chemicals have been found in humans and concerns about their possible adverse health effects, especially relative to cancer, have prompted the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in the United States and other health agencies around the world to conduct studies on phthalates and related chemicals.

What are phthalate esters?

These are liquid plasticizers, which look like vegetable oils, used as softeners making plastic flexible so they can be molded or shaped into useful items. Phthalates are also used in rocket fuel, floorings, insulation on cables and wirings in homes or in cars, automobile upholstery, paint, glue, hair spray, insect repellents, nail polish, synthetic leathers, shower curtains, and in many vinyl products we all use daily.

What is Endocrine Disruption Hypothesis?

This theory asserts that exposure to chemicals in our environment, albeit to small amounts, may interfere with the hormonal or endocrine system which may be harmful to humans or wildlife. This hypothesis is quite logical but not totally confirmed as yet. While waiting for the proof, we should all be prudently cautious when it comes to exposure to these agents or products containing them.

Are microwave and plastic dishes safe?

Nobody knows for sure. According to the Panel on Phthalates of the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA), these family of chemicals "have been researched and tested for 25 years and the best evidence to date suggests phthalates are safe when properly used." What "properly used" means, it did not explain. Our suggestion: when using the microwave oven and plastic dishes is to use the minimum time needed, just enough to warm the food item, and not to overheat it.

Are phthalate esters carcinogenic?

Laboratory studies have shown that rodents are uniquely sensitive to phthalate esters, some of which have been shown to cause liver or kidney tumors when fed to the rodents at high doses for an extended period of time. Adverse effects have not been seen in hamsters and monkeys. No validated evidence todate has shown that these chemicals can cause cancer in humans.

Do pthalates cause infertility?

Adverse effects on humans from di-n-butyl phthalate have not been proven, but in animals, eating a large amount can affect their ability to reproduce and can also cause death of the unborn animals. Decrease sperm production in these exposed animals have been shown but sperm production seemed to return to near normal levels.

Are consumers at risk?

Relaxing in a naugahyde chairs, in a room with vinyl coated objects and flooring, playing with vinyl beach ball or lying on a floating mattress in a swimming pool, or fishing with a vinyl fishing lure, are common daily instances where people come in contact with phthalates. But this does not mean that we are absorbing more than a trace of these compounds. What a trace does to the human body is the subject of various exhaustive ongoing investigation.

Does phthalate have an estrogen effect?

DINP, the principal phthalate used in toys, has been investigated for its ability to mimic estrogen in the body. According to the CMA Panel this study "have been overwhelmingly negative.DINP did not have estrogenic effect on the endocrine system at the realistic exposure level."

Why was DEHP toys removed from the market?

In the mid-80s, toy manufacturers removed from the market those made with DEHP (Diethylhexylphthalate after the studies then revealed that this agent had adverse effects on mice and rats. DEHP toys were removed until further research could be conducted. According to CMA, since that time, the extensive studies showed that these effects were "not relevant to humans."

Can this chemical be absorbed from plastic bags?

Yes, some di-n-butyl phthalate in food comes from the plastic packaging, some taken up by fish, shelfish and other food items inside the plastic bag. The levels of this chemical in food have ranged from around 50 to 500 parts per billion (ppb). Low levels (0.01 ppb) have been found around the globe, and some (0.03 to 0.06 ppb) found in city air. Higher levels are found in homes when products, such as nail polish, is used. Levels of around 0.1 and 0.2 ppb is present in some drinking water supplies. But, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, these levels in the air, water and food are usually low enough not to cause harmful effects.

Who could be exposed to dangerous levels?

People who live near, or work, in factories that manufacture or use di-n-butylphthalate could be exposed to a dangerous level if the chemical is allowed to escape into the air that people breathe or into the sources drinking water. Chemical spills or dumping could expose people to dangerous levels.

How does one absorb di-n-butylphthalate?

Entry into our body system could be by skin contact, breathing in air that is polluted by the chemical, drinking water or eating food that are tainted with phthalate. The chemical is absorbed following exposure and changed into other chemicals. Most of these are rapidly eliminated by the body through the urine and some through the feces. Most of the chemical is removed from the body within 24 hours, and virtually 100% is gone by 48 hours.

What is the lesson in all this?

This strongly emphasizes the fact that our homes are a poison storage dump. We buy several common poisons and dump them all over our home. Familiar ones are soaps, detergents, nail polish, insect sprays, hair sprays, some cosmetics, paint, glue and chemicals to clean our oven, floor, wall, toilet bowl, tub, and others. Prudent use, and proper disposal, of these chemicals is the only means to minimize our exposure to them. Everyone must be extra-conscious and super-cautious of the real adverse effects of these chemical agents. Children must be educated early and made aware of existence of these poisons at home and their dangers to health.

©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.