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Phthalates – What is this Environmental Toxin?

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What are Phthalates and Where are They Found?

Phthalates are plasticising agents commonly used in products made from PVC.

A modern-day substance that is all around us, phthalates are an endocrine disruptor. This means that they can disrupt normal hormonal function. Conditions that have been associated with exposure to phthalates or high amount of phthalate in the urine (a measure of exposure) include:

  • male infertility
  • congenital deformity of reproductive organs in males (such as hypospadias, in which the opening of the penis is not located at the tip)
  • increased distance between the anus and the genitals of newborns
  • preterm delivery
  • asthma and skin diseases in children

Considering the high risk to pregnant women, their developing babies and especially the risk of infertility in male children (read more), they should be banned from products targeted to women of reproductive age – which is a big list.

Human Exposure

The compounds can be released as they are not bound to other constituents in PVC polymers. This means they get into our air and water in the environment and into the food or other ingredients inside packaging. Heating or damaging the plastic can increase the rate that they leach out.

Phthalates get into the body through these routes:

  • oral – ingestion of DEHP from children sucking pacifiers (dummies) and toys, or DEHP can leach into food material (during processing, storing and reheating);
  • through the skin – absorption from contact with such DEHP-containing materials such as clothing, PVC gloves and personal care products;
  • inhalation – oxygen masks plus environmental contaminants (DEHP-bound dust particles from building products and household furnishings); and
  • intravenous – phthalates can leach from medical bags and tubes made from PVC.
  • vaginal/uterine absorption – many sex toys and intrauterine contraceptive devices – IUD or IUCD’s – are made from PVC as are Cervical Caps (a barrier contraceptive device)

The list of sources include:

  • household articles (e.g. shower curtains, dishwashers, rain wear, car seats, plastic food wraps)
  • medical devices (e.g. medical tubing used for kidney dialysis, gloves & blood bags)
  • children’s toys (e.g. rubber duckies)
  • infant care products (e.g. teethers and pacifiers)

PVC is also used in the packaging material of personal care items such as shampoo and deodorant bottles, and those used to contain baby-care products. Phthalates are also added to nail polish, perfumes, deodorant, hair gels, mousses, hair sprays, and lotions to fix and make the fragrance last longer.

Studies have shown that concentrations of phthalates may be higher in indoor air in newly furnished rooms—for example, rooms that have been freshly painted—than in outdoor air, suggesting high levels in soft furnishings. High levels of DHEP (a type of phthalate) were found in German house dust samples, and it is estimated that children ingest around 100mg dust per day.

Phthalate-Free Companies

Several companies, hospitals, and government agencies have taken steps to switch to alternative materials and phase out PVC use.

Microsoft has now completely ended the use of PVC in its packaging material and a number of overseas companies and organisations have PVC-free policies.

The European Union passed legislation banning some phthalates in cosmetics in 2003, and has kept three phthalates out of toys since 1999.

If you know of a NZ company in a high-risk field that is producing PVC/phthalate-free alternatives, please let us know.

What You Can Do

If you have problems with fertility, have had a baby with any kind of genital malformation or have been using contraceptive devices or sex toys that are implicated, we urge you to make an appointment with one of our naturopaths – we can start you on a detoxification and a hormonal rebalancing regime to reduce your risks.

For more articles about the association of phthalates with premature delivery, click here..

or give us a call 09 846 5566

Medications as a Source of Human Exposure to Phthalates. Hauser, Russ, et al Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 112, 2004 What are the Sources of Exposure to Eight Frequently Used Phthalic Acid Esters in Europeans? by Wormuth, M, et al. Risk Analysis, Vol 26, No 3, pp 803-824, June 2006

DEHP metabolites in urine of children and DEHP in house dust. by Becker, K., et al. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 207: 409-417. 2004




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