Sunday, June 29, 2014

Phthalates: It’s not Just a Fragrance; It’s a Birth Control!

Part 2 of a series on different toxins that are convenient but largely unnecessary in our lives. Much of my info comes from the excellent book, Slow Death by Rubber Duck (chapter 2). If you don't have time to read the book, read this instead. Today's issue is phthalates (thay-lates), in which we have to choose as a species whether we'd rather smell pretty or continue to reproduce

I didn't care much about what the government did or what things were made of until I was pregnant  in 1993, and my midwife said, "You know not to wear nailpolish when you're pregnant don't you?"  I had no idea....

* makes fragrances last longer (in room deoderizers, deoderants, perfumes, shampoos...)
* makes plastics soft and rubbery (vinyl in children's toys like Barbies and rubber ducks, shower curtains, window blinds, raincoats, and they leach out of soft plastics like medical IV bags, milk bags, packaging on a lot of food, soft plastic jars, and plastic wrap - all of which can also decompose and become dust that we breath in)
* helps products penetrate our body (personal-care products like lotions, creamy make-up, nailpolish)
* They're not in baby wipes or diaper cream, but they are in baby shampoos and lotions.

* Use ceramic or glass bowls in the microwave.  Don't ever microwave food in a plastic container even if it says microwave safe.  That could just means it won't melt, not that you won't get chemicals leaching into your food.  Remember, better safe than sorry.
* Don't wear fragrances, creamy make-up, or nailpolish.  Try to get used the way you look and smell without it all.  You can go without make-up and not be a hippie.  You will still have friends and attract a mate.  I've had no problems since giving it all up back in university (mainly from sheer laziness). 
* Use a deodorant stone.   I find they work for a few weeks, then stop working as well.  I don't know why.
* Use hemp fibers, wood, glass, and metal instead of plastics whenever possible.  Board and batton cladding looks way better than vinyl siding anyway.  Remember when pop all came in glass bottles and you'd spend Saturday morning collecting them from school yards and other teenage hangout for the deposit money and then buy a chocolate bar for a quarter before your parents were even out of bed yet?  I do. Jones Soda still just comes in glass bottles.  And no HFCS either! 
* Light a candle under a splash of essential oils to make a room smell nice.
* Shampoo and soap are a stopper for me.  I get the least fragrant ones because perfumes make my eyes water anyway.  But I'm not at the stage of making my own yet. 
* Yet another reason to avoid processed foods which tend to have significant levels of phthalates in them. 
* Check the EWG's Skin Deep database for ingredients of cosmetics.  They rate the toxicity of all sorts of products.  Or look at this study which found phthalates in 52 of 72 products. 
* Write to every food company that's started packaging in plastic when, just months ago, they used glass. 

Prevalence / Persistence
* They are in all of us even infants, and they cross the placenta during pregnancy.  But they break down relatively quickly.  If we stop making them, they'll disappear from most areas.  But currently phthalates add up, and often people get them from a variety of sources. 
* They're in the soil, but don't get absorbed by vegetable matter, but do accumulate in fats of animals (and their milk - and our milk).  So if you wash your vegies and avoid meat and dairy, you're fine there. 

Health Concerns
* Serious reproductive problems:  they mimic estrogen, so create male demasculinization or TDS (smaller penis size, incomplete testicular descent, scrotums that are not distinct from surrounding tissue; "phthalate syndrome" - it shortens the length between the anus and base of the penis, hykpospadias - a penis deformity, and impaired sperm quality)  "The male reproductive system is acutely sensitive to phthalates." - Stolen Futures
* Testicular cancer
* Studies found a very strong correlation between phthalate levels in the mother and gonad problems in her baby boy
* Asthma
* Low-birthweight births and premature births
* Attention deficit disorder
* Autism
So, you're beginning to think you just need to worry if you're pregnant or your son starts wearing make-up? Think again:
* There's a strong link with breast cancer as phthalates activate estrogen receptors; and elevated phthalates levels are linked to premature breast development, which ups the cancer risk. Children are particularly sensitive to hormonal disruptors. How cute is nailpolish on your little girl now?

Why it's still in use:
* Vinyl toys have been played with for fifty years and nobody got sick from them.  It's hard for people to see the connection between chewing on a plastic teething ring and low sperm count thirty years later. 
* The Toy Industry Association (TIA) has a strong lobby.
* People care more about smelling good than avoiding cancer.  They care more about smoking than cancer too.

*1998 - EU proposed an emergency ban of six phthalates in toys likely to be gummed by infants which was made permanent in 2005.  In the US, 12 different groups petitions for the CPSC to ban toys containing phthalates, but nothing happened.
* 2003 - US - the CPSC ruled that PVC toys aren't a health risk.  Industries cheered.  They were called "the new tobacco lobby."
* 2007 - Fiona Ma in San Francisco banned phthalates in certain products, then she introduced the  California Toxic Toys bill which Schwarzennegger signed.
* 2008 - George W. Bush signed a law prohibiting the sale of children's toys with more than 0.1% phthalates. The legislation made industry demonstrate that phthalates are safe before allowing them back on the market - a first with respect to toxic pollutants.  No toys were ever recalled though, so many are still in the hands of children.  And it's not banned from food packaging or anything else that also affects children.  Just toys.  
* 2009 - Health Canada's thinking about banning some phthalates in toys.  

Cross-posted from Project Earth Blog, March 2, 2010

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