Health Warning on Phthalates

Should you throw out all of your plastic containers to protect your family’s health?

Maybe your saw the “Sixty Minutes” segment on Phthalates this past Sunday. They did a good job of presenting both sides of this issue. The conclusion was that at the moment the science is inconclusive but there is sufficient evidence to be suspicious.

I was at an ASQ dinner last night and one of the gentlemen sitting at the table boasted that he had thrown out all his plastic food containers and replaced them with glass. Was he overreacting? It’s hard to say but let me share something with you that “60 Minutes” didn’t tell you. The European Union has already identified most of these chemicals as Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs) under REACH (Restriction, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals) formally, Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 of the European Parliament

REACH is a law based on a “precautionary approach” which means that for the approximately 30,000 chemicals regulated under the scope of this law, it is the responsibility of the manufacture of these substances (chemicals) to demonstrate that they are safe for their intended use. This is in stark contrast to our legislation known as TSCA, which requires that the EPA prove that the chemical in question is unsafe before it is withdrawn from the marketplace.

Furthermore, Phthalates are only the tip of the iceberg of common chemicals that might be mutagenic, carcinogenic, bioaccumulative or reproductive toxins. To date 37 chemicals have been classified as SVHCs under REACH which will ultimately lead to either their removal from products or their severe limitations on their use. The EU plans to add more chemicals every six months and the list is anticipate to increase to about 106 by the end of 2011.

NGOs like Greenpeace have issued a “Substitute-it-now” or SIN list suggesting the inclusion of several hundred additional chemicals as SVHCs. Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund are encouraging manufactures to substitute for these three plastic softeners (the phthalates DEHP, DBP and BBP) as well as the brominated flame retardant (HBCDD) because they have been found in house dust, in wildlife and the wider environment, or in levels that are detectable in human blood and urine samples.

Among the concerns that were presented on “60 Minutes” were the alarming increase in boys born with defective sex organs. Hypospadias has increased by 300% in the past 30 years and un-descended testicles by 200% according to Dr. Howard Snyder, a pediatric urologist at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. Other studies link phthalates to lower IQ’s in male students and to low sperm counts and lower testosterone levels in adult males.

Some companies like Eastman Chemical have responded by introducing alternative products. Eastman 168 is a non-phthalate plasticizer, supplied by Eastman Chemical (Kingsport, TN), has Food Contact Notification (FCN) clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and now also is listed in EU Commission regulation (EC) No 975/2009 amending Annex III.

Congress is currently working with the EPA and what is being called a “reset” of TSCA. So now might be a good time to weigh in on the subject with your lawmakers and insist that they adopt the precautionary principal when redrafting TSCA.


Phthalates on the Original SVHC List of REACH are:

Dibutyl phthalate CAS No. 84-74-2

Bis (2-ethyl(hexyl)phthalate) (DEHP) CAS No. 117-81-7

Benzyl butyl phthalate CAS No. 85-68-7

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