After years of debate and little action, the risks of phthalate exposure, from skin care and environmental products such as household cleaners and air fresheners is again in the media.
Two democratic senators are pressuring the White House to release a list of chemicals the Environmental Protection Agency claims could be detrimental to the environment and human health. The ‘Chemicals of Concern’ include eight phthalates, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, and bisphenol A.
Phthalates are known hormone disruptors and can even effect babies before they are born when their mothers are exposed to these chemicals. Phthalates are used as synthetic fragrances and colour fixers in skin care and cosmetic products. Some can be used to help the consistency of a cream or lotion and others are used in the manufacture of nail varnish.
The very strong fragrances in some laundry and dish wash detergents as well as air fresheners are fixed with phthalates.
At Mt. Sinai Medical Center recent studies have confirmed research carried out several years ago that consumers can have difficulty shedding fat because of the ‘chemical calories’ present in cosmetics such as lotions, shampoo and soap.
Chemical ingredients in 70% of cosmetics as well as many household-cleaning products are responsible for disrupting the delicate balance of hormones, throwing off balance the body’s natural weight control system.
The study suggests that once an individual is exposed to phthalates through the daily use of personal and skin care products in childhood, the chances of obesity and weight problems as adults becomes high.
The researchers obtained results from girls living in East Harlem, by analyzing the children’s urine and measuring their exposure to phthalates.
Renowned pediatrician, Professor Phillip Landrigan stated, “The heaviest girls have the highest levels of phthalates in their urine. It goes up as the children get heavier, but it’s most evident in the heaviest kids”.
This is just one effect phthalates may have on the human body. A study in Mexico in 2009, of 454 women, 233 who were breast cancer cases, found certain phthalates were associated with breast cancer rates. Lizabeth Lopez-Carrillo led the research at Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health and considers the results may be the ability of certain phthalate compounds to alter gene expression without altering the genetic code itself.
The largest concerns of exposure to phthalates are for unborn and young children. They are most at risk as their organs and brains are at crucial developmental stages. Scientists have documented prenatal exposure by measuring four phthalates in the urine of over 300 women to evaluate links to pre-birth exposures of these phthalates and the behavioral, mental and motor development of children when they were 3 years of age.
The results showed higher prenatal exposures to two of the phthalates significantly delayed the odds of motor development and the potential of future problems with fine and gross motor coordination. One of the phthalates appeared to cause significant decreases in mental development in girls, while exposure to three of the chemicals were associated with behavioral problems in both the sexes. These included anxiety, depression and withdrawal behavior.
Professor Niels Skakkebaek from Denmark, whose research was seconded by Professor Shauna Swan in the U.S., found phthalates responsible for a decrease of semen count and quality. The research also indicated phthalates were responsible for genital malformations in baby boys.
It appears that the risks are such that the EPA, who were granted the authority by congress in 1976, to create a list in the Toxic Substances Control Act, have not ever added to it until now.
Over the past year, the chemical industry has attempted to block the release of the EPA’s proposed list. The EPA maintains these chemicals present or may present an unreasonable risk of injury to human health or the environment.
It would appear to the layperson; from the varied findings of eminent scientists that fact was well established.