Q: What are High Phthalates?

A: High phthalates are a family of compounds whose primary use is as a vinyl or plastic softener. They are colorless, odorless liquids that do not evaporate readily from the vinyl or plastic product. High phthalates provide key characteristics to flexible vinyl products including: durability, flexibility, weather resistance and the ability to withstand high temperatures.

With a wide range of physical and chemical properties, phthalates are used in a multitude of consumer and industrial products that demand high performance, long-lasting wear and durability. While they can be employed in a variety of applications, these phthalates are not necessarily interchangeable. The characteristics of an individual phthalate often make it well suited to a particular product, allowing manufacturers to meet unique requirements for its use (function and safety specifications), appearance (texture, color, size and shape), and durability and wear. For this reason, substitutions could sacrifice the functionality, quality, longevity, cost or performance of a product.

With more than 50 years of research, phthalates are among the most thoroughly studied family of compounds in the world and have been reviewed by multiple regulatory bodies in the United States. The American Chemistry Council supports ongoing research into the health and safety of phthalates.

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» High phthalates uses and applications

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 thoroughly studied and reviewed by a number of government scientific agencies and regulatory bodies worldwide, and these agencies have concluded that phthalates used in commercial products do not pose a risk to human health at typical exposure levels. Information collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the last 10 years indicates that, despite the fact that phthalates are used in many products, exposure is extremely low – significantly lower than any levels of concern set by regulatory agencies.

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 were referred to an advisory panel for further study. In the fall of 2017 the CPSC proposed to make the ban on the use of DINP in toys and child-care articles permanent and lift the restriction on the use of DIDP and DnOP in toys and child-care articles. 

The decision to restrict the use of phthalates in children’s products 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, which 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. 

In October 2017, Environment and Climate Change Canada released their Draft Screening Assessment for the Phthalate Substance Grouping. The proposed conclusion is that “all 14 phthalates in the Phthalate Substance Grouping [including DINP] do not meet the criteria under paragraph 64(c) of CEPA as they are not entering the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions that constitute or may constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health.” Furthermore, Canada stated: “A cumulative risk assessment, using a conservative, lower-tiered hazard index (HI) approach has been conducted and indicates no concern for potential cumulative risk of medium-chain phthalates for the general Canadian population, specifically the more sensitive subpopulations (pregnant women/women of childbearing age, infants, and children) at current exposure levels. The HI values for the three subpopulations with the highest estimated exposure levels are all below 1. Hence, further refinement to a higher-tiered assessment is not necessary at this time.”

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) during 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 appropriate health and safety data are available for alternatives and to ensure 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 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 some environmental chemicals and some natural substances (like soy) can cause endocrine activity. 


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