Group Urges Study of Phthalates

A report by the National Research Council is calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to look at <"">phthalates and their effects on human health, reports Science Daily.  A National Research Council panel said that there is now sufficient scientific data to warrant an EPA assessment on cumulative exposure to  the toxic, plastic-softening chemicals, reported Reuters.

The panel said so-called Cumulative Risk Assessment should consider combined phthalate exposure as well as other toxins that cause similar effects, reported Science Daily.  The report noted that currently, the EPA looks at chemicals that are similar in structure and not similar health effects.  In looking at effects, the EPA could also investigate the risk of combined exposures to toxins such as lead, methylmercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls since all are known to contribute to the same effect:  Cognitive deficits linked to reduced IQ scores in children.  Because of this type of correlation, the National Research Council suggested the EPA use the cumulative analysis approach for future assessments on other chemicals, said Science Daily.

Science Daily also explained how the Cumulative Risk Assessment was determined, noting that two factors are critical:  If humans are exposed to multiple phthalates at any given time, and if sufficient evidence exists linking exposures to similar adverse health effects.  In this case, the committee concluded that such studies indicate broad human exposure—including in utero—to multiple phthalates.

Some phthalates are among the chemicals banned in the recently passed Consumer Product Safety Commission Improvement Act, which comes into effect February 2009.  The Act, which bans three phthalates in children’s toys and products in all but the smallest of amounts—and, pending additional research, bans three other phthalates—has been under fierce scrutiny because some manufacturers and retailers are using the window between the holiday season and the deadline to manufacture and sell toxic toys, which was not the Act’s intent.  The same six phthalates included in the Act, have been banned for almost ten years in European toys, Reuters said.  According to Science Daily, the European Union (EU) also banned some phthalates from cosmetics and has bans in place similar to the pending U.S. ban.  Science Daily noted that phthalates are used in a wide variety of products including cosmetics, medical devices, toys, and building materials.

Phthalates, which have been in use for decades, make plastic products soft and have been linked to hormonal disturbances and a variety of other adverse effects, making headlines in recent months over their continued use—especially in products and toys meant for children—despite links to physical harm.  Phthalates can be found in soft plastic toys and children’s products, including rubber ducks, teethers, and pacifiers.  Reuters added that phthalates have also been used in personal-care products, food packaging, pharmaceuticals, and cleaning materials.  Science Daily points out that recent animal studies have revealed the potential risks from phthalates; the committee reviewed this research and concluded that exposure to various phthalates in lab animals produced similar health outcomes, including effects on the development of the male reproductive system such as infertility, undescended testes, penis and other reproductive tract malformations, and reduced testosterone levels.

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