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

High Phthalates

Phthalates are a family of chemical compounds primarily used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or vinyl, flexible and pliant. Phthalates are one of the most commonly used plasticizers in the world and are categorized as “high” or “low,” depending on molecular weight.

High phthalates include those with 7-13 carbon atoms in their chemical backbone, which gives them increased permanency and durability. Common types of high phthalates include diisononyl phthalate (DINP) and diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP).

Uses & Benefits

Colorless, odorless high phthalates are used in a multitude of products that demand high performance, long-lasting wear and durability. High phthalates are primarily used to soften or “plasticize” vinyl, due to their strong performance, durability and stability. They are tightly bound into the structure of the vinyl and do not easily migrate out of the product or evaporate.

While they can be used in a variety of applications, different types of high 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), durability and wear.

Building and Construction

From energy-efficient roofing, to flexible adhesives and sealants, to durable interior finishes, high phthalates are used in building and construction applications to make a wide range of vinyl surfaces more durable 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

High phthalates are used in PVC insulation for electrical wiring that connects and supports electronic devices. For example, high phthalates may be used in the PVC that covers the electrical wiring of TVs and computers. Some of the many benefits of using high phthalates include low temperature performance, flexibility, heat resistance and electrical resistivity.

Automotive

Interiors, seat covers and interior trim in automobiles use vinyl softened with high phthalates because of their durability, UV resistance and ability to withstand high temperatures. Underbody PVC coatings and components in cars help prevent corrosion from water and weather.

Outdoor Products

Because high phthalates help make flexible PVC perform well 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, and roofing membranes and waterproof footwear, such as rain boots.

Textiles

High phthalates make coated textiles used to make clothing and luggage more durable and weather resistant.

Safety Information

High phthalates, such as diisononyl phthalate (DINP) and diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP), have been thoroughly studied and reviewed by a number of government scientific agencies and regulatory bodies world-wide, which 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 levels of concern set by regulatory agencies.

  • In 2013, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) published an evaluation of possible risks associated with everyday use of DINP and DIDP by the general public. They concluded that there is no public health concern with the current uses of DINP and DIDP for children and adults, including use in gloves, footwear, wet weather gear, children’s school materials (pencil cases, school bags and erasers), shower curtains, artificial leather in homes and automobile interiors, wall and floor covering, wire and cables, etc. They also found that presence of DINP and DIDP in food or household dust did not result in a health concern.
  • In 2017, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) published a similarly extensive draft risk evaluation of DINP and DIDP. ECCC found no concerns with the use of DINP and DIDP in articles like coated fabrics (upholstery and artificial leather), pool liners, gloves, PVC clothing, adhesives, sealants and coatings, etc. for children and adults. They also found no concern with the potential presence of DINP and DIDP in food and household dust. Overall, ECCC proposed to conclude that DINP and DIDP (among other phthalates) “do not meet the criteria under paragraph 64(c) of CEPA as they are not entering the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions that constitute or may constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health.”

    In 2017, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) confirmed that DIDP can be used in sensitive applications like toys and childcare articles without any restrictions. It based this conclusion on the finding that DIDP poses no harm to children or pregnant women at current exposure levels.

  • In 2018, the European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA) Risk Assessment Committee unanimously concluded that DINP did not show adverse effects on the sexual function, fertility or development of the fetus. As a result, DINP is not classified for a reproductive and developmental hazard in the European Union.

Answering Questions

What are high phthalates?

High phthalate are a group of chemical compounds that are used to make a variety of products used every day by people around the world. High phthalates are used in hundreds of products in homes, hospitals, vehicles and businesses.

Are high phthalates safe?

In recent years, many claims have been made about the health effects of high phthalates. Extensive scientific data about high phthalates provide consumers with information about the safety of high phthalates and help put public confusion about high phthalates into perspective. Government scientific agencies and regulatory bodies worldwide have supported the safety of high phthalates in commercial products. In addition, universities, government agencies, manufacturers and independent laboratories have conducted extensive research on high phthalates, indicating that high phthalates break down into metabolites within minutes after entering the body. Information collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the last 10 years also indicates 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 high phthalates through plastic food wraps and containers?

Food packaging, such as takeout containers, is not “coated” with high phthalates. High phthalates are approved by several food safety regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority, for use in some food contact products, such as conveyor belts used in food processing. FDA reviews the safety of material that is intended for food contact , before these materials are allowed on the market. To learn more about plastic and chemical safety in general, click here.

Are high phthalates in toys?

In the United States, as of February 2009, three high phthalates were permanently prohibited at concentrations greater than 0.1 percent in toys and child care articles. Three other high phthalates (DINP, DIDP and Dioctyl phthalate (DnOP)) were temporarily restricted in toys that can be placed in a child’s mouth and child care articles.  In 2018, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) ban on DINP in toys and child care articles became permanent and was extended to all children’s toys and child care articles for concentrations of more than 0.1 percent of DINP and 7 other phthalates. CPSC removed the interim prohibition on the use of DIDP and DnOP in toys and child care articles, determining that they do not cause adverse effects on male reproductive development and that other risks attendant to their use are low.

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

High phthalates are chosen by manufacturers as effective plasticizers for making vinyl flexible because they do not 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.

Can exposure to high phthalates make you fat?

No studies have shown exposure to high phthalates causes obesity in humans.

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