[Pharmwaste] Pthalates found in plastics mimic the female hormone
dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
Tue Mar 17 11:28:11 EDT 2009
Life Green Planet
Plastic health hazard
Pthalates found in plastics mimic the female hormone estrogen
By VIVIAN SONG, NATIONAL BUREAU
Last Updated: 14th March 2009, 4:00am
An alarming epidemic of premature breast development in girls as young
as two years old had doctors befuddled in Puerto Rico.
As early as 1979, pediatric endocrinologists were reporting a baffling
increase in the number of young girls entering premature sexual
development on the small, Caribbean island. Girls as young as 23 months
were developing breast buds and their estrogen levels were spiking
The estimated annual average incidence rate of premature breast buds, or
thelarche, for girls six to 24 months of age was eight cases per 1,000
female births between 1984 and 1993 -- the highest known incidence ever
When researchers began studying the effects of environmental chemicals,
they identified phthalates -- a substance used to soften plastics -- as
a possible culprit.
Girls with prematurely developing breasts were found to have seven times
the amount of phthalates in their blood than the control group in a
Puerto Rican study.
Phthalates are just one of dozens of chemicals environmentalists and
scientists have been scrutinizing recently as possible environmental
toxins, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, which mimic the female
In their report The Environment, Cancer and You, the Canadian Cancer
Society also says exposure to phthalates poses a cancer risk, especially
among young children.
Phthalates tend to leach from the plastic, said cancer control policy
manager Heather Chappell, and has been found to cause liver cancer in
lab animals. The U.S. National Toxicology Program also identified the
most common phthalate DEHP or diethylhexyl phthalate as being
"reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen."
DEHP is mostly used in PVC plastics and can be found in medical plastics
such as IV bags and tubes -- the Cancer Society's biggest concern for
its impact on children, Chappell said.
"Children are at a higher risk because they're at a vulnerable point in
their development," she said. "We encourage people to ask if hospitals
carry alternatives to (traditional) medical tubing or blood transfusion
About 20% of hospitals in Canada provided alternatives, she said, but
it's an expensive process.
In a report published by the National Academy of Sciences, a group of
scientists called for governments to study the cumulative impacts of
chemicals instead of studying the isolated impact of a single substance
when drafting acceptable exposure levels standards.
"Because people are exposed to multiple phthalates and other chemicals
that affect male reproductive development, a cumulative risk assessment
should be conducted that evaluates the combined effects of exposure to
all these chemicals," reads the report.
But this poses huge research limitations, Chappell said, as the sheer
ubiquity of these substances in the environment makes it hard to
understand how they interact.
"It's difficult to collect data like that," she said. "There are
signification limitations to our knowledge."
An aggressive push by environmentalists also alerted the public to the
hazards that the bisphenol A found in hard, polycarbonate plastic
bottles and in the lining of tin cans. The push moved the government to
ban the substance in baby bottles last year. Canada was the first
country in the world to declare BPA toxic, causing a mad scramble by
companies to pull products off the shelves and moms to literally pull
toxic baby bottles from the mouths of babes at once.
A recent Health Canada study examining BPA levels in canned drinks,
meanwhile, concluded that exposure through the consumption of canned
drinks would be "extremely low."
The report released earlier this month said that an adult weighing 60 kg
(133 lbs.) would have to consume 940 canned drinks in one day to be be
The highest BPA levels were found in energy drinks, with the highest,
Lost Five-O Energy Drink + Juice, topping out at 4.5 parts per billion.
Health Canada is currently studying phthalate levels in 5,000 Canadians
as part of a national survey examining environmental chemicals in our
bloodstream and tissue.
A phthalate control act, which would prohibit phthalates in cosmetics
and children's teething toys awaits Royal Assent. Up to now, guidelines
restricting phthalates in toys have been voluntary.
The estimated annual average incidence rate of premature breast buds in
girls six to 24 months of age was eight cases per 1,000 female births
between 1984 and 1993 -- the highest known incidence ever reported.
- Researchers in Puerto Rico
Phthalates are used to soften plastics in many products including:
- Vinyl products, such as flooring
- PVC plastics, such as shower curtains
- Medical plastics, such as IV bags
- Cosmetics, such as nail polish
Tips to reduce exposure:
- If you are pregnant or have a young child, ask for phthalate-free
(non-PVC) tubes and IV bags, if possible, for medical procedures.
- Use plastic baby bottles and children's toys with recycling codes 2,
4, or 5 on the bottom.
- Now that all cosmetics must be labeled with ingredients, look for
phthalates on the list and avoid.
Look for these "good" numbers
2 4 5
Source: Canadian Cancer Society
Deborah L. DeBiasi
Email: dldebiasi at deq.virginia.gov
WEB site address: www.deq.virginia.gov
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
Office of Water Permit Programs
Industrial Pretreatment/Toxics Management Program
PPCPs, EDCs, and Microconstituents
Mail: P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA 23218 (NEW!)
Location: 629 E. Main Street, Richmond, VA 23219
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