Phthalates are used in a large variety of products, from enteric coatings of pharmaceutical pills, gelling agents, adhesives and glues, detergents, packaging, children's toys, modelling clay, waxes, paints, printing inks and coatings, pharmaceuticals, food products, and textiles. Phthalates are also frequently used in soft plastic fishing lures, sex toys, caulk, paint pigments, shower curtains, vinyl upholstery, adhesives, floor tiles, food containers and wrappers, and cleaning materials. Personal-care items containing phthalates include perfume, eye shadow, moisturizer, nail polish, liquid soap, and hair spray. Items made of PVC and cosmetics may be the primary contributors.
So it is easy to see that people are commonly exposed to phthalates. In one study, CDC has found that people had the metabolites of multiple phthalates in their urine.
From the FDA webpage on the topic:
FDA reviewed the safety and toxicity data for phthalates, including the CDC data from 2001, as well as the CIR conclusions based on reviews in 1985 and 2002. While the CDC report noted elevated levels of phthalates excreted by women of child-bearing age, neither this report nor the other data reviewed by FDA established an association between the use of phthalates in cosmetic products and a health risk. Based on this information, FDA determined that there wasn’t a sound, scientific basis to support taking regulatory action against cosmetics containing phthalates.Here is the link to the CDC website on the topic.
Like BPA, there is controversy around the real risk associated with phthalates. And so what we can say is that where possible, we avoid risk. This is not always easy because many of the items where phthalates are used, do not have regulations that require them on the label. So on cosmetic items, especially fragrances, look for 'phthalate free'. Use plastic with recycling codes 1, 2, and 5. Throw out old plastic toys (pre-2010) or don't let little kids play with them (for you 'collectors'). Do not heat food in plastic containers. Sex toys....won't go there.
Prenatal exposure to chemicals tied to lower IQ at age 7
By Kathryn Doyle
Wed Dec 10, 2014 2:20pm EST
(Reuters Health) - Children whose mothers were exposed to higher levels of phthalates, common chemicals in consumer products, in late pregnancy tend to score lower than other kids on intelligence tests at age seven, according to a new study.
Some soaps, nail polish, hairspray, shower curtains, raincoats, car interiors and dryer sheets contain phthalates, which are used as so-called plasticizers, or softening agents.
At present, the Food and Drug Administration does not have evidence that phthalates as used in cosmetics pose a safety risk, but six types of phthalates are currently banned from children’s toys, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
There are no regulations on a pregnant woman’s exposure to the chemicals, and phthalates are usually not labeled on products in the U.S.
“This is the only study looking at this in a longitudinal fashion,” said lead author Pam Factor-Litvak, a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York, noting that this study only observed a relationship and did not test cause and effect.
“I think that there would need to be more studies to build up causation,” Factor-Litvak said.
Researchers followed 328 New York women in low-income communities from pregnancy until the child was seven years old.
During late pregnancy, researchers tested the women’s urine for di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP), di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP), di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate and diethyl phthalate.
When the children were seven, they completed an intelligence test measuring four areas of mental functioning.
The mothers’ levels of two of the phthalates - DnBP and DiBP - during pregnancy were associated with childhood intelligence: As phthalate levels went up, child IQ tended to go down.
When the researchers divided the mothers into four groups based on the amount of phthalates in their urine, kids whose mothers had the highest levels had an intelligence quotient (IQ) score about seven points lower than kids whose mothers had the lowest levels of the chemicals in their urine, according to the results in PLOS ONE.
The difference persisted when the authors accounted for other factors that can influence IQ, including the mother’s IQ, her alcohol use during pregnancy, education, marital status and the child’s birth weight.
“With observational studies, there is always the chance that the results may be in part explained by an unmeasured factor that we haven’t yet considered,” said Stephanie Engel, associate professor of epidemiology at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
“I would characterize this study as thorough and high quality, and the results concerning,” said Engel, who was not involved in the work. “But there needs to be more research in this area before firm conclusions can be drawn.”
Nevertheless, on a population level, six IQ points is a very significant shift, she told Reuters Health.
“It is clear that there needs to be a serious discussion in the scientific and policy communities about whether the evidence is strong enough yet to warrant widespread policy changes, not just on the basis of this study, but also including a range of childhood health outcomes that have already been reported in the literature,” Engel said.
Phthalates and similar chemicals, including bisphenol A (BPA), have also been associated with childhood obesity and asthma.
Factor-Litvak and her coauthors previously looked at the possible effects on motor skills in three-year-old children, and the results were similar.
Although there are no regulations on phthalate exposure during pregnancy, it would be prudent for expectant mothers to avoid microwaving food in plastic, avoid scented products, avoid plastics labeled #3, #6 or #7, and as much as possible store foods in glass instead of plastic, she said.
It might be prudent for everyone, not just pregnant women, to take note of these chemicals, she said.
“Because they are so ubiquitous it’s very hard to avoid right now but you can reduce your use of those products as much as possible,” she told Reuters Health.
Based on animal studies, researchers have several theories about how phthalates might affect development, including disrupting sex hormones, thyroid hormones or dopamine-sensitive activity in the brain, she said.
International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health
Phthalates: Toxicology and exposureUrsel Heudorfa, , ,
a Public Health Department of the City of Frankfurt, Germany
b Department Indoor and Environmental Toxicology, University of Giessen, Germany
c Institute and Optpatient Clinic of Occupational, Social, and Environmental Medicine, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, GermanyAvailable online 21 September 2007
Phthalates are used as plasticizers in PVC plastics. As the phthalate plasticizers are not chemically bound to PVC, they can leach, migrate or evaporate into indoor air and atmosphere, foodstuff, other materials, etc. Consumer products containing phthalates can result in human exposure through direct contact and use, indirectly through leaching into other products, or general environmental contamination. Humans are exposed through ingestion, inhalation, and dermal exposure during their whole lifetime, including intrauterine development.
This paper presents an overview on current risk assessments done by expert panels as well as on exposure assessment data, based on ambient and on current human biomonitoring results. Some phthalates are reproductive and developmental toxicants in animals and suspected endocrine disruptors in humans. Exposure assessment via modelling ambient data give hints that the exposure of children to phthalates exceeds that in adults. Current human biomonitoring data prove that the tolerable intake of children is exceeded to a considerable degree, in some instances up to 20-fold. Very high exposures to phthalates can occur via medical treatment, i.e. via use of medical devices containing DEHP or medicaments containing DBP phthalate in their coating.
Because of their chemical properties exposure to phthalates does not result in bioaccumulation. However, health concern is raised regarding the developmental and/or reproductive toxicity of phthalates, even in environmental concentrations.