Millions of tons of phthalates are produced each year.

Phthalate harm is cumulative.

Phthalates are used to make other compounds soft or flexible.

Especially plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

They are also used in fragrances, pesticides, and more.

Phthalates are among the most abundant man-made pollutants in our environment.

The harm caused by phthalates is far-reaching.

The effect of phthalates on male reproductive development have been observed since at least 1945.

Phthalates are endocrine disruptors — they mimic (displace) hormones and interrupt their production.

But newer research shows phthalate harm extends much further.

Reproductive harm affects both males and females

  • Early onset of puberty

  • Reduced fertility

  • Premature delivery

  • Testicle damage — lesions, cell death, atrophy

  • Uterine damage — endometriosis

  • Malformed reproductive organs — reduced anogenital distance, impeded testicular descent, hypospadia (urethra opens in wrong place)

  • Abnormal reproductive organs — sperm DNA damage, necrosis and apoptosis in spermatogenic cells

  • Altered mammary glands (both genders)

  • Permanent changes to the hypothalamus and altered pituitary development

  • Reduction in serum free testosterone

  • Feminization of males

Phthalates can disrupt fetal development.

Maternal exposure alters the balance of essential fatty acids (EFAs) in the placenta.

This leads to abnormal neurodevelopment of the brain and CNS.

It causes malformation of vital organs and skeletal structure.

Rat exposed to phthalate in womb shows reproductive harm

Rat testis
Left = Unexposed
Center and right = DEHP exposure during development

Exposure to phthalate in womb causes harm

Rat seminal vesicle
Left = Unexposed
Right = DEHP exposure during development

Phthalates negatively affect basic metabolic activity

  • Altered genes

  • Aberrant DNA methylation

  • Damaged protein synthesis

  • Disrupted sulphate enzyme activity

  • Reduced glutathione production and increased oxidative stress

  • Elevated cell apoptosis

  • Altered neurotransmitter function

  • Thyroid dysfunction

  • Loss of melanin

  • Altered vitamin metabolism

Phthalates have been observed to induce cancers — liver, bladder, breast, prostate,...

Phthalates may be in the process of inducing drug-resistant cancers.

Phthalates invoke anti-DNA antibodies.

This can lead to a wide range of autoimmune diseases.

Eczema and lupus have already been identified.

Phthalates weaken immune function.

For instance by interfering with macrophage function and increasing the susceptibility to bacterial infection.

Phthalates might be triggering diabetes by altering epigenes.

Phthalates are seen to induce symptoms of diabetes

  • Decreased cortisol

  • Decreased liver glycogen

  • Decreased serum insulin

  • Insulin resistance

  • Increased blood glucose

  • Increased serum T3 and T4

  • Obesity

Connect these studies with these.

Inhaled phthalates can cause airway inflammation, rhinitis and pneumonia.

Phthalates have even been correlated with an increased incidence of ADHD.

Phthalates are inhaled, absorbed through skin, and ingested.

Opportunities for exposure are everywhere.

High phthalate burdens has been recorded in people around the world.

Common sources of phthalates exposure are

Baby items — teething rings, sippy cups, soft books — breast milk, infant formula, baby food
Building materials — cables, caulk, flooring, hoses, pipes, roofing, sealants, tubing, window frames
Cleaning supplies — deodorizers, detergents, fabric softeners, glass cleaners
Clothing — boots, emblems, gloves, polar, fleece, raincoats, shoes
Dentistry — dental composites, dentures
Electrical cables
Electronic devices
Fishing lures
Food wrap
Fragrance — musks, perfumes, scents, air fresheners
Furniture — upholstery
Glow sticks
Herbal remedies
Household dust
Industrial air pollution
Inflatables — beds, toys, wading pools, etc.
"Jelly rubber"
Lubricants and oils
Medical devices — IV tubing, blood & fluid storage bags
Nutritional supplements
Packaging — PET or PETE — PVC or Vinyl — other plastics
Personal care products — cosmetics, deodorants, hair styling products, lotions, nail polish, shampoo, soap
Pesticides — insecticides, etc.
Rocket propellent
School supplies — binders, modeling clay, scented erasers
Shower curtains
Water — sewage sludge, tap water, treated water
Window shades

Heating an item that contains phthalate generally increases the rate at which the chemical comes out.

Children receive greater phthalate exposure than adults.

Pre-schoolers have measured 2x to 4x higher burden than adult teachers in the same nursery environment.

Some children exceed government limits by 20x.

This study measured the levels of 9 different phthalate breakdown products in urine from diapers of 163 infants aged 2 to 28 months.

Every infant had at least 1 phthalate — but more than 80% had 7 or more phthalates.

Concentrations of MEP, MMP, and MIBP were highest in infants exposed to baby lotion, baby powder, and baby shampoo.

Infants less than 8 months old were most affected.

At present, U.S. manufacturers are not required to list phthalate contents on product package labels.

Infants are the most vulnerable.

While still early in their development they can be exposed to phthalates through breast milk, infant formula, baby food, indoor air, and dust.

Infants in hospitals have exceeded phthalate limits by 100x.

Fetuses and newborns are especially vulnerable to the PVC products used in hospitals and other settings.

For example, DEHP leaches out of medical equipment.

DEHP is one of the most common phthalates.

PVC can be 50% DEHP by weight.

Examples of affected items include

• Bags — anticoagulants, blood, IV fluids, nutritional solutions, pharmaceuticals, plasma

• Tubing — blood circuit tubes, catheters, drip lines, endotracheal tubes, infusers, tracheal intubation

• Vinyl gloves

DEHP is present in many of the disposables used when people donate blood (aphaeresis).

Both donors and recipients become exposed.

Note that heparin coated medical tubes do not protect against DEHP exposure.

See Health Care Without Harm for more on this issue.

A single dose of one phthalate at at a critical time of development can leave permanent and profound effects on the embryo.

And a portion of the mother's original phthalate burden can pass to subsequent generations.

A great many pills, capsules, and tablets contain phthalates.

This includes many "gel caps" and "veggie caps".

(Examples of patents here, here, and here.)

From a technical view, phthalates help protect ingredients until they travel past the stomach and into the intestines.

Whenever you see "time release", "controlled release", or "enteric-coated" in the product information, it's almost certain to contain a phthalate.

Phthalate coatings also are used as a barrier to bitter or otherwise strong tasting ingredients.

Common acronyms for phthalate coatings and plasticizers are

CAP cellulose acetate phthalate

HPMCP hydroxypropylmethylcellulose phthalate (aka hypromellose phthalate)

PVAP polyvinyl acetate phthalate

Just a ~very~ few product examples include

Bisacodyl (Dulcolax)
Diclofenac (Arthrotec 50)
Garlic extract (GarliChol, GarliCell, GarliPure, Nature's Herbs)
Multi vitamins and minerals (Physicians Rx Complete)
Probiotics (Bio-Dophilus, Flora Plus with Acidophilus)
Sulfasalazine (Asacol, Azulfidine, Salazopyrin)

Fluoxetine (Prozac)
Garlic oil (GARLIC Rx)
Serrapeptase (most brands)
Peppermint Oil (Peppermint Plus, NOW Peppermint Gels)
Pig Spleen (Polyerga Plus)

Activated charcoal (Charcoal Plus)
Carbenicillin (Geocillin)
Glipizide (Glucotrol XL)
Naproxen (Aleve)
Phenelzine (Nardil)
Sertraline (Zoloft, Lustral)

Often the phthalate ingredient is hidden within something else.

For instance a trade name like Sureteric or Opadry.

Sometimes it is plainly listed, such as with diethyl phthalate.

This example discusses how one man experienced an astounding spike in phthalate metabolite levels when he began taking an enteric coated medicine.

Phthalates exhibit hormesis.

Lower doses can cause greater effect than higher doses.

Phthalates exhibit excitotoxicity.

Various effects include

  • Interference with tryptophan metabolism. This leads to higher quinolinate levels. Quinolinate is excitotoxic and neurodegenerative.

  • Inhibition of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs).

  • Altered cellular levels of Ca2+, Mg2+ and Na(+)-K+ ATPase — and subsequent brain damage.

Other factors increase the potency of phthalates.

Some examples are

• Phthalates exhibit synergistic toxicity with parabens, PCBs, and even manure.

• Exposing phthalates to sunlight and H2O2 can increase their estrogenicity.

• Hyperthyroidism can increase the level of oxidative damage induced by phthalates.

Phthalates are recognized as toxic substances under environmental Superfund law.

For instance, releasing just 10 pounds of di-(n-butyl) phthalate (DBP) must be reported to authorities.

But companies are free to use unlimited amounts as cosmetic ingredients.

There are no reporting requirements in the U.S.

Each year the cosmetics industry puts 100,000's of pounds of DBP into nail polish.

And that's just one item out of the thousands of ‘beauty’ items sold each year.

Women of childbearing age have the highest levels of exposure to DBP — 20x above the national average.

The European Union prohibits DBP use in cosmetics.

Nanoparticles of phthalates are now being added to cosmetics.

On October 31, 2006 the FDA approved ArteFill for use as a wrinkle treatment.

ArteFill is made of injectable polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) microspheres in a bovine collagen base with 0.3% lidocaine.

PMMA is plexiglass.

Once the PMMA is injected into skin it is permanent.

DBP is known to migrate out of PMMA.

Phthalates are used to manipulate how products taste or smell.

They can hide flavors and fragrance until the product makes contact with the mouth or nose.

Phthalates are among the thousands of toxic chemicals concealed behind the word fragrance on product labels.

The National Resource Defense Council tested 14 popular air fresheners for phthalates.

12 contained at least one kind of phthalate.

None had phthalate listed in the ingredients.

Some were labeled "all-natural" or "unscented".

Phthalates leak into saliva.

Children can be exposed by chewing plastic toys.

Phthalates have been shown to leach out of dental composites.

Drinking water is often bottled in plastic containers made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE).

Besides leaching phthalate into the water, the bottles also leach antimony – a toxic metal.

PVC is used in office dividers and other infrastructure.

The risk of adult-onset asthma is more than 2x for workers employed in offices with plastic wall-lining.

The same materials promote bronchial obstruction in young children.

Phthalates aren't the only chemicals to waft out of PVC shower curtains.

This investigation found over 100 different volatile organic compounds and chemicals including

Dipropylene glycol methyl ether
Ethanol, 2-(2-butoxyethoxy)
Methyl Isobutyl Ketone (MIBK)

A full report can be obtained here (free registration required).

Car parts often contain phthalates which are released during the entire life of the vehicle.

They're part of that "new car smell”.

And that "old car smell" too.

Common acronyms for phthalates and their metabolic breakdown products are

BBzP Butyl benzyl phthalate
BEP Butyl A-ethylhexyl phthalate
DBGP Di-butylglycol phthalate
DBP Di-(n-butyl) phthalate
DCHP Dicyclohexyl phthalate
DEHP Di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate
DEP Di-n-ethyl phthalate
DHP Dihexyl phthalate
DHP Di-n-hexyl phthalate
DIBE Di-isobutylhexahydro phthalate
DIBP Di-isobutyl phthalate
DIDP Di-isodecyl phthalate
DIHP Di-isoheptyl phthalate
DINP Di-isononyl phthalate
DIOP Di-isooctyl phthalate
DMP Di-methyl phthalate
DOP Di-n-octyl phthalate
DPHP Di-(2-propylheptyl) phthalate
DPOP Diphenyl 2-ethylhexyl phosphate
DPP Di-n-pentyl phthalate
DTDP Di-tridecyl phthalate
L7-11 Di-L-heptyl, undecyl phthalate
L7-9 Di-L-heptyl, nonyl phthalate
L9 Di-L-nonyl phthalate
L9-11 Di-L-nonyl, undecyl phthalate
L11 Di-L-undecyl phthalate
MBP Mono-n-butyl phthalate
MEHP Mono-(ethylhexyl) phthalate
MPP Monopentyl phthalate
PA Phthalic acid
PET Polyethylene terephthalate
TPA Terephthalic acid
UDP Undecyl dodecyl phthalate

The base chemicals are made by

BASF Corp.
Eastman Chemical Co.
Exxon-Mobil Chemical Co
Ferro Corp.

New discoveries continue to expand the range of known harm caused by phthalates.

To continue learning more about phthalates consider

In this article Charles Moore states

"...there are six pounds of plastic floating in the North Pacific...

...for every pound of naturally occurring zooplankton."

"The potential scope of the problem is staggering.

Every year some 5.5 quadrillion (5.5 x 10^15) plastic pellets — about 250 billion pounds of them — are produced worldwide for use in the manufacture of plastic products.

When those pellets or products degrade, break into fragments, and disperse, the pieces may also become concentrators and transporters of toxic chemicals in the marine environment."

"Thus an astronomical number of vectors for some of the most toxic pollutants known are being released into an ecosystem dominated by the most efficient natural vacuum cleaners nature ever invented: the jellies and salps living in the ocean.

After those organisms ingest the toxicants, they are eaten in turn by fish, and so the poisons pass into the food web that leads ... to human beings."

1945 advertisement for Phthalic Anhydride

Phthalates have been accumulating in people for decades