Cheatsheet: Phthalates or Plasticizers

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Cheatsheet: Phthalates

Everything you need to know about phthalates

What is it?

Phthalates are a common industrial chemical used in PVC plastics, solvents, and synthetic fragrances. They’ve been around since the 1930’s, and now they’re pretty ubiquitous; when they tested 289 people in 2000, the CDC found phthalates in all of the subjects’ blood at surprisingly high levels. They’re often referred to as a plasticizer, which we think sounds rather like a kind of exercise to be done on the living-room floor in front of videos hosted by Jane Fonda. But we digress.

What are the possible health effects?

Phthalates are endocrine disruptors linked to problems of the reproductive system, including decreased sperm motility and concentration in men and genital abnormalities in baby boys. (Oh, and did you know that average sperm counts have decreased significantly since the 1940’s?) More recently they’ve also been linked to asthma and allergies.

How can I minimize my exposure?

Avoid these, and you’ll also be avoiding phthalates:

  1. Nail polish: Dibutyl phthalate is often used to make nail polish chip-resistant. Look for it on the ingredients list, where it may be shortened to DBP.
  2. Plastics in the kitchen: Take a critical eye to your cupboards. Phthalates may be more likely to leach out of plastic when it’s heated, so avoid cooking or microwaving in plastic.
  3. Vinyl toys: Phthalates are what make vinyl (PVC) toys soft, so don’t give them to children. Opt instead for wooden and other phthalate-free toys, especially during that age when they put everything in their mouths!
  4. Paint: Paints and other hobby products may contain phthalates as solvents, so be sure to use them in a well-ventilated space.
  5. Fragrance: Diethyl phthalate (DEP) is often used as part of the “fragrance” in some products. Since DEP won’t be listed separately, you’re better off choosing personal care products, detergents, and cleansers that don’t have the word “fragrance” on the ingredients list.
  6. Vinyl: Vinyl shows up in a lot of different products; lawn furniture, garden hoses, building materials, and items of clothing (like some raincoats) are often sources. Aside from carefully choosing materials when you’re making purchases, there is one easy change you can make: switch to a non-vinyl shower curtain. That “new shower curtain” smell (you know the one) is a result of chemical off-gassing, and it means your shower curtain is a source of phthalates in your home.
  7. Air Fresheners: Just like fragrances in personal care products, most air fresheners contain phthalates.

Where can I learn more?

  1. Here’s a link to Phthalates in the Chemical Index.
  2. Phthalates were just one of the hormone-disrupting chemicals we found contaminating the San Francisco Bay.
  3. NRDC has the low-down on phthalates in air fresheners.
  4. EWG’s Jane Houlihan discusses phthalates in children’s personal care products.
  5. Olga explains a recent study linking phthalates to asthma and allergies.

Orginal photo by Felix63

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Reusable plastic bottles leach BPA at room temperature

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Reusable plastic bottles leach BPA at room temperature

February 15, 2008, EWG

This may be worse than we thought

A lot of people have those reusable polycarbonate water bottles; you can’t go to a college campus these days without seeing students carrying these multi-hued bottles around as they make their way through classes.

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Well, a couple weeks back researchers at the University of Cincinnati released a startling new study showing that many of these bottles leach bisphenol A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor, into water that is being stored within the container.

These researchers found that these plastic bottles leach BPA into room-temperature water. That’s bad enough, but if boiling water is put into these bottles, the rate of BPA leaching goes up by quite a bit.

All the evidence out there tells us that this stuff is not good for you; EWG tested canned foods recently, which are lined with the same BPA plastic as these water bottles are made from. As it turns out, foods from metal cans contain significantly more of the chemical than water from bottles.

We applaud the use of reusable water bottles to cut down on the environmental impact of bottled water, but with this new research, metal water bottles are looking better and better. Some have a plastic lining, but Klean Kanteen makes metal water bottles that are BPA free.

Parents who are concerned about baby’s plastic bottles should know that although this study didn’t look at baby bottles, it studied the same type of plastic. At this point, there’s enough research out there to justify the added expense of buying BPA-free or glass bottles. But an even more critical step would be to substitute powdered formula for liquid formula if your baby isn’t drinking breast milk. Babies don’t need to be getting extra endocrine disruptors in any form.