Phthalates and bisphenols are names of groups of chemicals that are becoming part of everyday language. Many people are learning that these synthetic endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can be found in our bodies, and that we should avoid everyday products containing them.
CHEM Trust has long been concerned about the wide variety of uses of phthalates and their presence in everyday consumer products. Some phthalates were banned years ago in certain uses because prenatal exposure to them has long been known to harm reproductive development of male offspring, due to their endocrine disrupting properties. Other harmful effects have also been reported, e.g. a new scientific paper reports a link between some ubiquitous chemicals, including phthalates, and risk of breast cancer.
US scientists have also recently raised the alarm that phthalates can impair children’s brain development, and immediate action on this group of chemicals is needed.
Growing evidence of harm
In their recent publication, the experienced scientists and health professionals of the TENDR (Targeting Environmental Neuro-Development Risks) project report a growing body of evidence from experimental and epidemiological studies that have found associations between prenatal exposure to phthalates and neurodevelopmental effects in offspring.
Several epidemiological studies have measured prenatal exposure to phthalates, and then followed children’s development noting altered behaviour, and symptoms of, or clinical diagnosis of developmental disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism.
The most consistent pattern across multiple studies was the association of phthalate exposure levels during foetal development with children’s behaviours commonly associated with ADHD; such as hyperactivity, aggression/defiance, and emotional reactivity, deficits in executive function, or an ADHD clinical diagnosis. Reduction of child IQ has even been reported for one phthalate.
Several chemicals are thyroid disrupting and may contribute to brain damage
Several causes of the effects of phthalates on brain development have been discussed and thyroid hormone disruption is one potential mechanism of interest. Thyroid hormones are essential for brain development, and chemicals that disrupt the thyroid system may severely harm neurodevelopment as CHEM Trust has described in our No Brainer report.
Although, effects on brain development have only been shown for certain phthalates, many other phthalates have not been examined for these effects at all. In CHEM Trust’s view a more precautionary approach needs to be taken to avoid children’s risk for learning, attention, and behavioural disorders. Not least considering the increase in the incidence of ADHD and autism related diagnoses during the last years.
New EU restrictions roadmap must address brain damaging chemicals
The EU has already banned some phthalates (and bisphenols) for some uses, but CHEM Trust has criticised the patchwork of insufficient legislation which means that these chemicals continue to be used in many products. For example, certain phthalates have been restricted for the use in applications such as flooring, however, they are still allowed to be used in food contact materials.
Also worrying is “regrettable substitution” where banned phthalates in products can be replaced with other phthalates which may have the same harmful effects, but which have not yet been fully investigated.
The EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (CSS) promises to get rid of EDCs in consumer products. CHEM Trust sees the upcoming restrictions roadmap, promised under the CSS, as the right tool to further restrict at least those phthalates which are already classified for harmful effects, or identified as SVHC on the REACH Candidate List, and still in use today.
Restrictions covering groups of similar substances are also important to avoid the replacement of a banned substance with a similarly problematic one, as we described in our Toxic Soup report. This is why we support the development of a group restriction for bisphenols, which is currently under preparation. For details see CHEM Trust’s comments on the call for evidence for Bisphenol A and structurally related bisphenols of similar concern for the environment.
Inadequate information on neurotoxic properties
Currently, only very few chemical substances have been tested for their effects on neurodevelopment. Such an investigation is not a standard requirement under REACH, but it may be triggered in rare cases. However, the CSS also promises to update the REACH information requirements with regard to effects on the nervous system. It will also explore how to extend the approach for generic restrictions to cover substances affecting the neurological system. It should also be considered whether a new hazard class for neurotoxicity should be added to the rules on classification and labelling of products (CLP).
Currently, work is ongoing under the auspices of OECD and the EU Commission on setting-up a battery of non-animal tests for early prediction of developmental neurotoxicity of chemicals.
Pia Juul Nielsen, EDC science and policy expert at CHEM Trust, said:
“The EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability has rightly placed an emphasis on ensuring better protection from chemicals with neurotoxic properties, including endocrine disrupting chemicals. Safeguarding children’s brain development should be the ultimate guiding principle for all EU decisionmakers.
The EU Commission must now ensure that such substances are restricted so they cannot be used in everyday products. Also that information on neurotoxic properties, including on developmental neurotoxicity, will be included as a part of the standard information requirements for chemicals”.