Friday, September 26, 2008

Toxic phthalate news and avoidance tips

Phthalates, those pesky, hormone-disrupting plasticizers and fragrance disseminators, are getting under our skin, and new research continues to reveal how disruptive this may be to male reproductive development and virility.

Most recently, phthalates were found to impair the development of the testis in the human fetus, which could potentially harm male fertility in adulthood, according to a study published this month in Environmental Health Perspectives. In other recent studies, phthalates in breast milk were associated with changed levels of reproductive hormones in 3-month-old boy infants, and the chemicals were also linked to abnormal genital development in male infants.

Phthalates are found in most of our bodies, and, alarmingly, at their highest levels in children and in women of childbearing age, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s 2003 chemical body burdens study. Phthalates migrate readily out of plastics and personal care products and are prevalent in the environment.

“You can be exposed to low levels of phthalates through air, water, or food,” says Shanna Swan, Ph.D., principal researcher in the study of phthalates and genital development in humans, and director of the center for reproductive epidemiology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine. How can we reduce our exposures? It’s simple, at least in principle.

1. Avoid personal care products, cosmetics, household cleaning products and air fresheners with “fragrance” in the ingredients list. Phthalates are used in synthetic fragrances. Buy only products whose ingredients lists specify that only plant essential oils and no synthetic fragrances are used. See Greenerpenny’s updated list of phthalate-free personal care product brands. Minimize the use of personal care products on newborns, infants and children. I will always be grateful to my son’s pediatrician, who said that you shouldn’t use soap, oils, lotions or powder on babies’ skin. “They don’t need it when they’re not crawling yet. Think about it. They don’t get dirty,” he said. “Just change the diaper frequently, and wash him in warm water.”

2. Avoid products made of PVC plastic, which is softened with phthalates. These include
many children’s products (toys, teethers,lunch boxes, school binders, raincoats, backpacks) and household decorative products (shower curtains, wallpaper, blinds) made of PVC.

3. Be aware of less avoidable exposures, but don’t panic.“You could be exposed by drinking water that contains phthalates, though it is not known how common that is,” writes Dr. Swan (if you are renovating, consider not using PVC water pipes). In addition, “Children can be exposed by breathing household dust that contains phthalates, or using IV tubing or other medical devices made with phthalates.” Health Care Without Harm has a campaign to get hospitals to stop using soft PVC medical devices and other toxins such as mercury.

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