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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More Chinese Toys Recalled

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This is really getting out of hand. Someone has to stop these Chinese exporters and their substandard products.

recalled chinese toys

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On a more serious note…

RC2 Corp. is recalling about 1.5 million “Thomas & Friends” wooden railway toys. Surface paints on the recalled products contain lead. Lead is toxic if ingested by young children and can cause adverse health effects.

The recall involves wooden vehicles, buildings and other train set components for young children listed in the chart below. The front of the packaging has the logo ‘Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway’ on the upper left-hand corner. A manufacturing code may be located on the bottom of the product or inside the battery cover. Toys marked with codes containing ‘WJ’ or ‘AZ’ are not included in this recall.

The railway toys were sold at toy stores and various retailers nationwide from January 2005 through June 2007 for between $10 and $70.

Consumers should take the recalled toys away from young children immediately and contact RC2 Corp. for a replacement toy.

Recalled Product Name
Red James Engine & Red James’ # 5 Coal Tender
Red Lights & Sounds James Engine & Red James’ #5 Lights & Sounds Coal Tender
James with Team Colors Engine & James with Team Colors #5 Coal Tender
Red Skarloey Engine
Brown & Yellow Old Slow Coach
Red Hook & Ladder Truck & Red Water Tanker Truck
Red Musical Caboose
Red Sodor Line Caboose
Red Coal Car labeled ‘2006 Day Out With Thomas’ on the Side
Red Baggage Car
Red Holiday Caboose
Red ‘Sodor Mail’ Car
Red Fire Brigade Truck
Red Fire Brigade Train
Deluxe Sodor Fire Station
Red Coal Car
Yellow Box Car
Red Stop Sign
Yellow Railroad Crossing Sign
Yellow ‘Sodor Cargo Company’ Cargo Piece
Smelting Yard
Ice Cream Factory


Consumer Contact:
For additional information, contact RC2 Corp. toll-free at (866) 725-4407 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT Monday through Thursday and between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. CT Friday, or visit the firm’s Web site at recalls.rc2.com

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