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Panel: Eileen Conneely
Media: Sarah Scruggs

Phthalates are a large family of compounds with an array of properties that are used to soften plastics and make vinyl soft and pliant, in a wide variety of applications including: garden hoses and sports equipment, energy-efficient roofing, flexible adhesives and sealants, wire and cable insulation, flooring and wall coverings.

Phthalates Brochure: Customer Satisfaction and Product Performance

Unique Benefits

Phthalates are primarily used to make PVC or vinyl flexible and are used in hundreds of products in our homes, hospitals, cars and businesses.

Colorless, odorless phthalates are not only cost effective, but also highly suitable for many flexible vinyl products. Some of their key characteristics include: durability, flexibility, weather resistance and 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, 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.

Flexible, Durable and Resistant Products

The total economic contributions of three phthalates plasticizers manufacturers and the purchaser industries generate nearly $35 billion in economic output. Phthalates are used in flexible vinyl applications across a broad range of industries, including the building and construction, automotive, flooring and wire and cable industry sectors.

  • Because phthalates help make PVC resistant to changing weather conditions—maintaining flexibility in cold conditions and resisting degradation in high temperatures—they are used in many outside products, including: swimming pool liners, waterproofing for roofs and footwear, like rain boots.

  • Durability, low volatility, heat resistance and electrical resistivity make phthalates a material of choice for protecting wires that run through homes and offices to charge our computers, appliances and a variety of other machines used in our daily lives. Wires and cables sheathed with PVC help prevent potentially dangerous electrical accidents.

  • Interiors, vinyl seat covers and interior trim in automobiles use phthalates because of their ability to withstand high temperatures. PVC coatings and components in cars help prevent corrosion from water and weather elements. Flexible vinyl is also used in cars and trucks to make them lighter and more fuel efficient.  

  • In hospitals, flexible PVC also is used in flooring because it is affordable, durable and easy to clean, helping to meet sterility and safety standards.

Tested, Effective and Affordable
Removing phthalates from the products could mean the loss of essential properties in consumer and industrial products products that we rely on every day. For example, without phthalates, electrical cords would be less flexible and subject to cracking, which could expose live wires. Phthalates make up 90 percent of the plasticizer market, and while there are some potential substitutes in development, there are no drop-in replacements available for many current applications that would provide similar performance, durability and cost.

Safety Information

Phthalates have been thoroughly studied and reviewed by a number of government scientific agencies and regulatory bodies world-wide 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 over 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.

  • Phthalates are some of the most tested substances in commerce and have been reviewed by a variety of regulatory scientific bodies worldwide, including the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the European Union (EU) Chemicals Bureau and the Australian National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme in the Department of Health and Ageing (NICNAS), the Australian Government regulator of industrial chemicals

  • The U.S. National Toxicology Program’s Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (NTP CERHR) concluded that there was “minimal concern” regarding risk of developmental or reproductive effects from current exposure levels to diisononyl phthalate (DINP), that there was “minimal concern” regarding risk of developmental effects and “negligible concern” regarding risk of reproductive effects from current exposure levels to diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP).

  • The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel (CHAP) on DINP in 2001 and the CPSC staff in 2002 both concluded that exposure to DINP from mouthing soft plastic toys would be expected to pose a minimal to non-existent risk of injury for the majority of children.


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