What Are Phthalates?
For several years now we’ve been hearing about the mysterious, ubiquitous, and hard-to-spell chemical compounds know as phthalates (pronounced f-THAL-lates), which are used to make plastics flexible and as lubricants in cosmetics. There are many types of phthalates, among them DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate), DEP (diethyl phthalate), DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate or bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate), BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate), and DMP (dimethyl phthalate).
Where Are Phthalates Used?
Commonly found plastic food and beverage containers, but it turns out their presence extends far beyond that. In fact, about a billion pounds of phthalates are produced every year, and their use is so widespread that they are nearly impossible to avoid entirely. Indeed, 95 percent of us have detectable levels of phthalates in our urine. You’ll find phthalates in perfume, hair spray, deodorant, almost anything fragranced (from shampoo to air fresheners to laundry detergent), nail polish, insect repellent, carpeting, vinyl flooring, the coating on wires and cables, shower curtains, raincoats, plastic toys, and your car’s steering wheel, dashboard, and gearshift. Medical devices are full of phthalates — they make IV drip bags and tubes soft, but unfortunately, DEHP is being pumped directly into the bloodstream of ailing patients. Most plastic sex toys are softened with phthalates. Phthalates are found in our food and water, too. They are in dairy products, possibly from the plastic tubing used to milk cows. They are in meats (some phthalates are attracted to fat, so meats and cheeses have high levels. Tap water that has been tainted by industrial waste, and in the pesticides sprayed on conventional fruits and vegetables; make sure you are washing your foods well with a vinegar or veggie spray wash.
What Are the Effects of Phthalates?
Phthalates are thought to mimic and displace hormones and interrupt their production. This can have a range of unpleasant effects. As a result of this ubiquity, we are all ingesting, inhaling, and absorbing through our skin a significant phthalate load — which quickly moves to our bloodstream. The effect of phthalates, especially on male reproductive development, has been observed since the 1940s, and phthalates are now widely known to be “endocrine disruptors.” So what does that mean? A Frontline special explained that: Hormones are chemical messengers that travel throughout the body coordinating complex processes like growth, metabolism, and fertility. They can influence the function of the immune system, and even alter behavior…In response to a signal from the brain, hormones are secreted directly into the blood by the glands that produce and store them. These glands make up what is known as the endocrine system. Chemicals that interfere with the function of hormones are therefore known as endocrine disruptors.