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Phthalates - Questions and Answers

By NIH

What are phthalates? Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastic and vinyl. They are used in hundreds of consumer products.

 

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Phthalates are used in cosmetics and personal care products, including perfume, hair spray, soap, shampoo, nail polish, and skin moisturizers. They are used in consumer products such as flexible plastic and vinyl toys, shower curtains, wallpaper, vinyl miniblinds, food packaging, and plastic wrap.

Phthalates are also used in wood finishes, detergents, adhesives, plastic plumbing pipes, lubricants, medical tubing and fluid bags, solvents, insecticides, medical devices, building materials, and vinyl flooring.

Phthalates had been used to make pacifiers, soft rattles, and teethers, but at the request of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, U.S. manufacturers have not used phthalates in those products since 1999.

How might I be exposed to phthalates?

You can be exposed to low levels of phthalates through air, water, or food. You can be exposed to phthalates if you use cosmetics, personal care products, cleaning products, or other plastic and vinyl products that contain them.

Exposure to low levels of phthalates may come from eating food packaged in plastic that contains phthalates, or breathing dust in rooms with vinyl miniblinds, wallpaper, or recently installed flooring that contain phthalates. You could be exposed by drinking water that contains phthalates, though it is not known how common that is.

Children can be exposed to phthalates by chewing on soft vinyl toys or other products made with them. Children can be exposed by breathing household dust that contains phthalates, or using IV tubing or other medical devices made with phthalates.

People at the highest risk of exposure to phthalates are dialysis patients, hemophiliacs, or people who received blood transfusions from sources that use tubing or containers made with phthalates. The Food and Drug Administration has recommended steps to minimize exposure of patients to medical devices that contain phthalates, and alternative devices for certain procedures. Others at high risk are painters, printers, and workers exposed to phthalates during the manufacture, formulation, and processing of plastics.

How can phthalates affect my health?

The human health effects of phthalates are not yet fully known, but are being studied by several government agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the National Toxicology Program's Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction.

Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate is listed as a substance "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" in the Eleventh Report on Carcinogens, published by the National Toxicology Program.

Current levels of seven phthalates studied by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences posed "minimal" concern for causing reproductive effects. However, the National Toxicology Program concluded that high levels of one phthalate, di-n-butyl phthalate, may adversely affect human reproduction or development.

High levels of exposure to di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate through the use of medical tubing and other plastic devices for feeding, medicating, and assisting the breathing of newborn infants, may affect the development of the male reproductive system, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Last Updated: October 17, 2007

 

 

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Phthalates - Questions and Answers:  Created on April 27th, 2008.  Last Modified on December 6th, 2009

 

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About NIH

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary Federal agency for conducting and supporting medical research.

The NIH provides leadership and direction to programs designed to improve the health of the Nation by conducting and supporting research in the causes, diagnosis, prevention, and cure of human diseases; in the processes of human growth and development; in the biological effects of environmental contaminants; in the understanding of mental, addictive and physical disorders; and in directing programs for the collection, dissemination, and exchange of information in medicine and health, including the development and support of medical libraries and the training of medical librarians and other health information specialists.

 

 

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