What Are Phthalates? | Uses, Benefits, and Safety Facts

Phthalates

What are phthalates?

Phthalates are a family of chemical compounds primarily used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or vinyl flexible and pliant. Phthalates are used in hundreds of products in our homes, hospitals, cars and businesses.

The phthalates widely selected to soften vinyl are used because of their strong performance, durability and stability. Because they are used to soften vinyl and make it flexible, in these applications they are called “plasticizers.” These phthalate plasticizers are bound into the material in which they are added; they do not easily migrate out of the product or evaporate.

Phthalates are the most commonly used plasticizers in the world and are categorized as high and low, depending on their molecular weight.

What are high phthalates?

High phthalates include those with 7-13 Carbon atoms in their chemical backbone, which gives them increased permanency and durability. The most common types of high phthalates include diisononyl phthalate (DINP), diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP) and dipropylheptyl phthalate (DPHP). High phthalates are commonly used in PVC products such as wire and cable, flooring, wall coverings, self-adhesive films, synthetic leather, coated fabrics and roofing and automobile applications.

What are low phthalates?

Low phthalates include those with 3-6 carbon atoms in their chemical backbone. The most common types of low phthalates include di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). Low phthalates are commonly used in medical devices, general purpose PVC, adhesives, inks, and cosmetics.

What are phthalates used in PVC?

Phthalates are used in PVC to soften the vinyl, making it more flexible and durable. In these applications, phthalates are called “plasticizers. These phthalate plasticizers are bound into the PVC material in which they are added; they do not easily migrate of the product or evaporate.

Uses & Benefits

Colorless, odorless phthalates are not only cost effective, but also highly suitable for use in a multitude of consumer and industrial products that demand high performance, long-lasting wear and durability.

While they can be used in a variety of applications, phthalates are not necessarily interchangeable. The characteristics of an individual phthalate often make it well suited to a specific product, allowing manufacturers to meet unique requirements for its use (function and safety specifications), appearance (texture, color, size and shape) and durability and wear. For this reason, substitutions could sacrifice the functionality, quality, longevity, cost or performance of a product.

High phthalate plasticizers are used in the following applications to make products that are long-lasting and high quality:

Building and Construction

From energy-efficient roofing, to flexible adhesives and sealants, to durable interior finishes, phthalates are used in building and construction applications to make a wide range of vinyl surfaces last longer and easier to maintain. Major uses of flexible PVC in buildings include: vinyl roofing membranes, resilient flooring, wall coverings, acoustical ceiling surfaces, waterproofing membranes and electrical cord insulation.

Wire and Cable

Durability, low volatility, heat resistance and electrical resistivity make vinyl softened with phthalates a material of choice for protecting wires that run through homes and offices to power computers, appliances and electronics. Wires and cables sheathed with flexible PVC prevent potentially dangerous electrical accidents.

Automotive

Interiors, seat covers and interior trim in automobiles use vinyl softened with phthalates because of its ability to withstand high temperatures. PVC coatings and components in cars help prevent corrosion from water and weather. Flexible vinyl is also used in cars and trucks to make them durable and economical.

Outdoor Products

Because phthalates help make flexible PVC perform better in changing weather conditions – maintaining flexibility in cold conditions and resisting degradation in high temperatures – they are found in many outside products, including: swimming pool liners, garden hoses, waterproofing for roofs, and footwear, such as rain boots.

Medical

In hospitals, flexible PVC is used in hospital flooring because it is affordable, durable and easy to clean, helping to meet sterility and safety standards.

Safety Information

Phthalates have been thoroughly studied and reviewed by a number of government scientific agencies and regulatory bodies world-wide and these agencies have concluded that phthalates used in commercial products do not pose a risk to human health at typical exposure levels. Information collected by the 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—significantly lower than any levels of concern set by regulatory agencies.

  • In September 2012, the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) of the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing joined regulatory bodies in the United States and Europe that have found that current uses of DINP in consumer products are not expected to pose a risk to human health.
  • In 2013, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) reaffirmed the safety of DINP and DIDP for use in all current applications.
  • The U.S. National Toxicology Program’s Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction concluded that there was “minimal concern” regarding risk of developmental or reproductive effects from current exposure levels to DINP, and there was “minimal concern” regarding risk of developmental effects and “negligible concern” regarding risk of reproductive effects from current exposure levels to DIDP.

Tested, Effective, Affordable

Phthalates have been thoroughly studied and reviewed by a number of government scientific agencies and regulatory bodies world-wide and these agencies have concluded that phthalates used in commercial products do not pose a risk to human health at typical exposure levels. Information collected by the 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—significantly lower than any levels of concern set by regulatory agencies.

Removing phthalates from products could mean the loss of essential properties that consumers rely on. For example, without phthalate plasticizers, electrical cords would not have the flexibility that allows them to bend and twist without cracking.

Phthalates make up 90 percent of the plasticizer market, and while some substitutes are in use and others are under development, there are no drop-in substitutes; each application has to be evaluated for the particular properties required from a plasticizer. In addition, suitable alternatives are not available for some high performance applications.

Answering Questions

In recent years, many claims have been made about the health effects of phthalates. Extensive scientific data about phthalates provides consumers with information about the safety of phthalates and help put public confusion about phthalates into perspective. Below are answers to some common questions based on what you may have heard or read about phthalates and human health effects:

Are phthalates safe?

Government scientific agencies and regulatory bodies worldwide have supported the safety of phthalates in commercial products. And, a great quantity of research has been conducted on phthalates by universities, government agencies, manufacturers and independent laboratories. This research indicates that phthalates break down into metabolites within minutes after entering the body. And, information collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the last 10 years indicates that exposure from all sources combined is extremely low – much lower than the levels established as safe by scientists at regulatory agencies.

Can people be exposed to phthalates through plastic food wraps and containers?

Phthalates aren’t used in those materials; and, food packaging like takeout containers is not “coated” with phthalates. Any material that is intended for food contact is reviewed for safety by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and this stringent safety review is done before new materials are allowed on the market. To learn more about plastic and chemical safety in general, click here.

Does the 2014 Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel (CHAP) report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) ban phthalates in consumer products?

No. Under federal law, children’s toys that can be placed in a child’s mouth and child care articles were temporarily banned if they contained more than 0.1 percent of the high phthalates DINP, DIDP or DnOP. The 2014 CHAP report recommends making this ban permanent for DINP, but does not affect the use of this phthalate in other applications. The CHAP report also recommends lifting the ban for DIDP and DnOP.

Are phthalates in toys?

In the United States, as of February 2009, three phthalates were permanently prohibited at concentrations greater than 0.1 percent in toys and child care articles. Three other phthalates (DINP, DIDP and DnOP) were temporarily restricted in toys that can be placed in a child’s mouth and child care articles and were referred to an advisory panel for further study. The 2014 CHAP report recommends making the temporary ban on DINP permanent, but also recommends lifting the ban on the phthalates DIDP and DnOP. Decisions to restrict the use of phthalates in children’s products, however, are not based on science.

Do phthalates leach out of products like shower curtains and vinyl flooring?

Phthalates do not easily migrate. They are chosen by manufacturers as effective plasticizers for making vinyl flexible because they don’t easily migrate out of material. They are tightly held in the structure of vinyl, are odorless and have very low volatility, which means they do not readily evaporate.

Do phthalates make you fat?

No studies have found exposure to phthalates to cause obesity in humans. For example, one study that looked into childhood obesity makes no claim that exposure to phthalates causes an increase in weight. The authors report only a very preliminary statistical correlation between weight and phthalate exposure, and note further study is required.

For more information: http://phthalates.americanchemistry.com/Phthalates-Basics/Questions-Answers/Phthalates-and-Health-QA.html