Phthalates are a group of chemicals compounds that are commonly found in materials made from plastic. The chemical is added to plastics to mainly increase their durability, flexibility, longevity, and transparency.
You might not even know that it is present in most of the products you use every day. Phthalates are present in a variety of items for consumption ranging from household cleaners to the cosmetics you use daily. Secondly, they are also released into the environment in a big amount.
What is the biggest source of these chemicals?
The great exposure to phthalates is believed to come from the diet of a person. Many of the everyday foods that are a part of almost every other person’s dietary intake especially the fatty food such as meat, milk or butter have plastic packaging which contains the toxic phthalates.
These chemical compounds are created through the reaction of phthalic anhydride with a selected and appropriate alcohol. The result is the production of colorless as well as odorless liquids which are then later added to different products.
In fact, these chemicals are now also seen to be present in the air and can be absorbed into the body through breathing or through the skin. In accordance with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American had multiple phthalates detected in his/her urine.
Read the CDC’s complete report here.
In addition to the chemical exposure from food and products, air pollution is also a big source. The indoor air, which happens to be worse than the air outdoor, tends to have a higher concentration of phthalates in it.
This is because of the different products that contain phthalates which are used by people living in the house. Secondly, the concentration of the chemical in the air is higher in the warmer temperature of the house compared to the temperature outdoors.
What do these compounds do?
These harmful effects of this toxic chemical are now well-known by researchers. Hence, there are multiple studies that highlight the long-term effects of phthalates exposure on the human health as well as effects on the environment.
A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives in the year 2003 showed that the increase of phthalates in the environment and exposure leads to changes in the DNA in sperms.
The observation of urine and semen samples from 168 males showed that monoethyl phthalate which was detected in nearly all samples did cause considerable DNA damage in the sperm.
Additionally, a scientific review published in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine looked at the effects of phthalate exposure and reproductive health. Phthalate exposure not only leads to damage to the reproductive system and organs but also disturbed the hormonal cycles.
Other studies highlighted the effects of adult or pubertal exposure to phthalates including testicular toxicity.
Phthalate exposure in females was also seen to cause pre-ovulatory follicles because of reduced granulosa size, delayed ovulation, and decrease the production of circulating serum oestradiol.
It is because of dangerous effects like these that there have been a lot of demands for the use of non-phthalate plastics instead of the phthalate-containing ones especially in the packaging of food and dietary items.
Where are phthalates present?
Along with the packaging of foods, the phthalates are also seen in coatings, children’s toys, textiles, clay, paints, pharmaceuticals, and printing inks.
These dangerous chemicals are also likely to be present in most of your household cleaners and other items including containers, carpeting, and shower curtains.
The most shocking source of phthalates may nutritional supplements and pharmaceutical pills, and many of the medicines. Secondly, other medical accessories such as blood transfusion devices and catheters also contain phthalates.
A study conducted by Harvard School of Public Health in 2004 found that the coatings of various supplementary and prescribed medication consisted of a number of polymers dibutyl phthalate and diethyl phthalates.
A part of the study observed a man who was taking a medicine called Asacol which was suspected to contain phthalates to check the urine concentration of phthalate through a urine spot test.
Consequently, the concentration of the phthalate from the medicine in the urine was seen to be much higher than the 95th percentile for males which was reported in the 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.