PDF _ RL34572 - Phthalates in Plastics and Possible Human Health Effects
28-Jul-2008; Linda-Jo Schierow, Margaret Mikyung Lee; 24 p.

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July 28, 2008

Abstract: Roughly a dozen chemicals known as phthalates are used to make the plastics found in thousands of consumer products, ranging from medical tubing to automotive dashboards to bath toys. These phthalates are not tightly held by the plastics and are released into the environment over time. Congress is concerned about possible human health effects from exposure to six of these chemicals: di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), diisononyl phthalate (DINP), diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP), and di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP). DEHP, DBP, BBP, and (to less extent) DINP are known to be toxic to the reproductive systems of rodents. Recent experiments demonstrate that pre-natal exposure at a sufficient level to these same phthalates disrupts the normal action of hormones and can cause malformations of the reproductive organs of offspring (especially males).

Disruption of hormonal functions in humans is known to result in abnormal reproductive development. Many scientists believe that the phthalates toxic to rodents might be able to cause similar malformations in humans. However, human health effects of phthalate exposure have not been conclusively demonstrated. Very few studies have looked at possible effects in humans, but their results have been consistent with the results of rodent experiments. More research would be needed to test this hypothesis. Recent surveys have found almost universal exposure to phthalates. Individuals may be exposed to high enough levels of phthalates to cause reproductive abnormalities. Scientists at the National Toxicology Program have expressed “serious concern” about human male infants undergoing intensive medical procedures, and “concern” about development of human males less than a year old who are exposed to DEHP. In light of these concerns, the National Academy of Sciences is evaluating the risk of aggregate human exposure to multiple phthalates.

Federal agencies have taken several actions, some as early as the mid 1980s, to evaluate and regulate phthalates, but no product to date has been banned outright. The agency responsible for regulating toys and most other child-care products is the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). In March 2008, the Senate approved an amendment to H.R. 4040, the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act, that would restrict the use of six phthalates in toys and child-care products. The House version had no phthalate amendment. On July 29, 2008, the conferees announced approval of an amended version of the Senate provision.

The scientific basis for concerns about human health risks appears to be strong in the case of some phthalates (such as DEHP), adequate with respect to others (perhaps DINP), and weak for the remaining chemicals (for example, DIDP and DnOP). The strongest evidence with respect to developmental effects has been produced since about the year 2000. The Senate amendment would codify the voluntary agreements reached by CPSC with product manufacturers and reduce exposure to one particular phthalate. New formulations for toys and child-care products may pose greater or fewer risks than current formulations.

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Topics: General Interest, Risk & Reform, Waste Management

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