WEDNESDAY, Jan. 15, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The banning of
certain types of a common class of chemicals known as phthalates
has reduced Americans' exposure to the chemicals' potential harms,
a new study suggests.
However, the researchers also found evidence of increased
exposure to other phthalates that could pose similar health
Phthalates are used to make plastic more flexible, and are found
in items such as nail polish, fragrances, plastic products and
building materials. In 2009, the U.S. Congress voted to ban some of
the chemicals from children's products because of their disruptive
effects on human hormones.
"Exposure to three of the phthalates that have been banned in children's toys has decreased over 10 years," said lead researcher Ami Zota, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University's School of Public Health and Health Services.
For other phthalates, however, exposure has increased, Zota
said. "[The increase is] probably because these new phthalates are
replacing the phthalates that have been phased out," she said.
Some of these newer phthalates have been studied in animals and
found to be just as harmful as the banned phthalates, Zota added.
"We are uncertain about their potential human health effects," she
Zota said she thinks companies are replacing the banned
chemicals with phthalates that haven't been banned.
Although she could not say whether all phthalates should be
banned, Zota said the lesson of the continuing phthalate story is a
simple one: "We need to do a better job of understanding the health
and safety ramifications of chemicals before they're used in a
widespread manner," she said.
The report was published online Jan. 15 in the journal
Environmental Health Perspectives.
Some studies have linked phthalates to DNA damage in sperm and
lower sperm quality in men. Other research has found that exposure
among pregnant women might alter genital development in their male
children. Exposure to phthalates also has been linked to thinking
and behavioral problems in boys and girls, the researchers
In a statement, the American Chemistry Council, a trade
association for U.S. chemical companies, said there is scant
evidence that phthalates are harmful.
"Information collected by the U.S. 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 -- much lower than the levels considered safe by regulatory agencies," the statement said.
"It is worth noting, however, that the [new study] tells us nothing about the migration rate of any particular [phthalate] from flexible vinyl; nothing about how the [phthalate] might break down in the environment; and nothing about whether minute amounts of the [phthalate] might present any sort of environmental or health issue," the statement added.
On the other side of the issue, Johanna Congleton, a senior
scientist at the environmental-advocacy organization Environmental
Working Group, said, "While we are pleased that the levels of
certain bad actor phthalates have declined in the U.S. population,
it is worrisome that the body burdens of other types of phthalates
"Research tells us that replacement phthalates may have similar health impacts, such as adverse effects on hormone signaling and male reproductive development," Congleton said." Swapping out one problematic chemical for another that may be just as bad is not the answer. Clearly we need better safety testing for chemicals before they come to market, so we can be sure that replacement chemicals are truly greener."
For the study, Zota and her colleagues looked at exposure to
phthalates from 2001 to 2010 among 11,000 people who took part in
the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
The researchers found that almost everyone had been exposed to
some phthalates, including those that had been partially
Among all phthalates, three have been permanently banned in all
children's products. Another three were temporarily banned, pending
further study, from use in children's toys that might be placed in
Zota's team found that exposure to permanently banned phthalates
However, exposure to the phthalates that were banned until
further study is conducted (DnOP, DiDP and DiNP) actually
increased. DnOP and DiDP exposure increased 15 percent and 25
percent, respectively, and exposure to DiNP increased nearly 150
percent. DiNP is being used to replace other phthalates, the
In addition, the researchers found changes in exposures to the
other two phthalates (DEP and DiBP), neither of which has been
subject to federal restrictions. Exposure to DEP decreased by 42
percent since 2001, but tripled for DiBP.
Zota said consumers who are worried about exposure to phthalates
should look for phthalate-free products, which are becoming more
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Preventionfor more on phthalates.
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