Phthalates, now linked to causing early deaths?
An article in the US Guardian last week reported worrying research from the peer reviewed journal Environmental Pollution. Exposure to some phthalates might be causing roughly 100,000 deaths annually in the US. The conclusion was drawn from results that indicated adults with the highest concentrations of phthalates in their urine were more likely to die of any cause, but especially heart disease.
What are phthalates?
Phthalates are a large group of chemicals most commonly found in plastic, added to increase its flexibility and durability. They are also found in cosmetics and toiletries due to their ability to carry fragrances. Exposure happens in numerous ways, including ingestion or absorption through the skin. For example, phthalates used in food packaging can migrate into food which then end up in the blood stream when the food is consumed. Some phthalates are banned, but in Western Europe one million tonnes of these chemicals are still produced each year and used in products ranging from flooring to toys and clothing. We are therefore exposed to these chemicals from numerous sources and our cumulative exposure from these chemicals and others can be high.
How concerned should we be?
The research connecting exposure to phthalates to early deaths is not yet proof that phthalates were the direct cause. However, this latest research adds further evidence to the already mounting pile that shows how toxic phthalates are for the human body. The most widely known health impacts are on fertility and reproductive health with some phthalates linked to lowering testosterone levels and sperm count and quality in men.
CHEM Trust campaigns in the EU and the UK for phthalates to be removed from consumer products. The (relatively) positive news about phthalates is that unlike other chemicals we are exposed to, they do not remain in the human body for long periods of time. Studies demonstrate that declining exposure to the most hazardous phthalates occurred after bans came into force. If we regulate phthalates, we can stop their toxic effects on human health.
Watch this video about a project CHEM Trust is involved in at EU level on phthalates.
Click here for further reading academic reading on health impacts of phthalates.