Chances are you've begun seeing products labeled as "phthalate free" and wondered what phthalates are.
More and more consumers are beginning to become aware of phthalates as they have been undergoing extensive testing for their potential effects on both human health and the environment. Like Bisphenol-A, more commonly known as BPA, phthalates have become the most widely researched chemical substances in Europe and North America.
Here are the five things you need to know about phthalates today:
1. What are phthalates?
Phthalates are a group of chemicals most often used to make plastics more flexible and tougher to break. They are found in a wide range of industrial and consumer products.
2. Where can phthalates be found?
Phthalates, sometimes called "everywhere chemicals," are found in a variety of everyday products including:
• Household products -- detergents, garden hoses, adhesives, shower curtains
• Personal products -- soaps, shampoos, hair sprays, nail polishes, deodorants, cosmetics
• Children's products -- teething aids, inflatable toys, sleepwear, bibs, plastic raincoats
• Medical supplies -- blood storage containers, medical tubing
• Building materials -- PVC, vinyl flooring
3. How are people exposed to phthalates?
Consumers mostly come into contact with leached phthalates by eating foods and drinking liquids that have been heated in or stored in packaging containing phthalates. They can also be breathed in from the dust or fumes from products containing vinyl.
Infants and toddlers are at a higher risk of exposure to phthalates during periods of sucking and chewing items containing phthalates. The chemicals migrate into the body through their saliva and are then converted into metabolites that pass through in urine.
4. What are the health risks associated with phthalates?
According to Health Canada, research has shown that some phthalates adversely affect the reproductive systems and physical development of laboratory subjects. Research on the human health effects from exposure to phthalates is underway.
The mere presence of phthalates in soft vinyl products does not pose a health risk. Rather, it is the concentration of phthalates that leach out of these products that can actually be harmful.
There are currently studies looking at the relationship between phthalates and asthma and whether exposure to phthalates influences the timing or puberty in young people.
5. How to minimize exposure to phthalates
In 2011, Health Canada announced regulations to restrict the allowable concentrations of phthalates in toys and other infant products. These regulations cover children's products (where the soft vinyl can be placed in a child's mouth) that are imported, sold or advertised in Canada.
Other ways to minimize phthalate exposure:
• Parents or caregivers to small children should limit the use of soft vinyl toys not specifically designed for chewing or mouthing.
• Use refillable glass, porcelain and stainless steel containers to store food and beverages, particularly for hot or warm items
• Use silicone nipples for bottle feeding when possible, instead of latex rubber nipples which may contain phthalates
• Avoid using plastic containers in microwaves to heat food
• Purchase consumer items, including children's toys and supplies, that are marked as "phthalate-free"