Q: What are phthalates; what are they used for?
A: Phthalates are a family of compounds that are colorless and odorless and have low volatility. There are many different kinds, but phthalates are mainly used to soften vinyl.
Phthalates provide many product and consumer benefits and are used in many important applications, from recreational and safety equipment to wire and cable to building and construction materials. They are among the most thoroughly studied families of compounds in use today and have developed a very strong safety profile during the 50 years in which they have been in general use.
Q: Are phthalates safe?
A: Phthalates have been reviewed by numerous scientific panels and the conclusions have been essentially the same each time: phthalates used in commercial products do not pose a risk to human health at typical exposure levels.
Q: Are phthalates used in personal care products?
A: The phthalates DINP, DIDP and DPHP are not used in personal care products.
Q: Are phthalates in toys?
A: In the U.S., as of February 2009, three phthalates were permanently prohibited at concentrations greater than 0.1 percent in toys and child care articles. Three other phthalates (DINP, DIDP and DnOP) were temporarily restricted in toys that can be placed in a child’s mouth and child care articles and have been referred to an advisory panel for further study.
The decision to restrict the use of phthalates in children’s products, however, is not based on science. In September 2012, the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) of the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing joined regulatory bodies in the United States and Europe that have found that current uses of DINP in consumer products are not expected to pose a risk to human health.
NICNAS performed a comprehensive review of the available scientific literature on the phthalate DINP, including the report to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) by the Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel (CHAP) on DINP in 2001 and the most recent publicly available U.S. assessment, the 2010 CPSC staff toxicity report on DINP.
Q: Do phthalates leach out of products like shower curtains and vinyl flooring?
A: Phthalates do not easily migrate. They are chosen by manufacturers as effective plasticizers for making vinyl flexible because they don’t easily migrate out of material. They are tightly held in the structure of vinyl, are odorless and have very low volatility, which means they do not readily evaporate.
Q: How are people exposed to phthalates?
A: People are primarily exposed to phthalates through ingestion, although exposure may also occur through dermal contact or inhalation. Information collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over the last 10 years indicates that, despite the fact that phthalates are used in many products, exposure is extremely low – much lower than the levels considered safe by regulatory agencies.
Q: Can phthalates easily be replaced with alternatives?
A: Phthalates are the preferred plasticizer in use today because of their strong performance, cost-effectiveness and durability. Owing to regulations or market trends, alternative plasticizers are being used in some applications. Some of these are well-tested and have been used successfully for a number of years; however, in order to avoid “regrettable substitution”, it is important to make sure that appropriate health and safety data are available for alternatives and to ensure that the alternative performs satisfactory for the particular use.
Q: Are phthalate alternatives studied and reviewed with the same level of scrutiny as phthalates?
A: A few of the most commonly used alternatives have been tested; however, a number of new products are currently being introduced into the market. As with any plasticizer, either a phthalate or an alternative, it is important to ensure that there is sufficient health and safety as well as performance data to evaluate its suitability for a particular use.
Q: Do phthalates accumulate in our bodies?
A: Phthalates do not accumulate in our bodies. They are quickly metabolized and removed from our bodies within hours, as confirmed by biomonitoring data collected by CDC and other government agencies around the world.
Q: Phthalates are often described as “endocrine disruptors” in the media; what does this mean?
A: While most of the phthalates in commerce are not associated with endocrine effects, a few phthalates have been found to interfere with normal sexual development in male rats at doses that are significantly higher than those typically experienced by people. These adverse effects have not been seen in primates and may not be relevant to human exposure.
The endocrine system in humans and other animals produces the hormones that regulate the body’s various processes, such as sleep, metabolism and reproduction. Scientists have suggested that some environmental chemicals and some natural substances (like soy) can cause endocrine activity.