Phthalate Exposure

colorful-car-toyPhthalates are endocrine disrupters, widely present in the environment and able to impede mental and motor development in children by causing changes in the nascent brain. These chemicals are found in many consumer products, from shower curtains to plastic toys to shampoo and hair spray. Their ubiquity has led scientists to look more closely into the risks associated with exposure to phthalates during pregnancy. What they found was sufficiently disconcerting to make you scrutinize the products you buy if you are pregnant or contemplating being so.

Dr. Robyn Whyatt, from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, reported in September, 2011, that prenatal exposure to metabolites of four different types of phthalates significantly increases the chances of physical and mental delay, indicating the potential for future problems with gross and fine motor coordination.  “Our results suggest that prenatal exposure to these phthalates adversely affects child mental, motor and behavioral development during the preschool years,” commented Dr. Whyatt, adding that, “The results add to a growing public health concern about the widespread use of phthalates in consumer products.”  (Whyatt.  2011)  Although the actual mechanisms by which phthalates wreak their malevolence are still being examined, their endocrine disruption has been specifically linked to thyroid hormone and testosterone production.  Partner to the study, Dr. Pam Factor-Litvak explained that, “The results are concerning since increasing exposures from the lowest 25% to the highest 25% among the women in our study was associated with a doubling or tripling in the odds of motor and/or behavioral problems in the children.”

If you’re a baby boomer, you associate plastic with the cheap imported toys of the 50’s and 60’s, stuff that would snap in an instant.  Plastics—plasticizers in the case of phthalates–actually are materials that make other materials easier to handle, more flexible and pliable, and less brittle.  They work best if their molecules are both polar and non-polar, where the former help the plasticizer be retained in the system, and the latter decrease the attraction force between molecules to maintain flexibility.  This is how hair spray works; it’s flexible.  Otherwise, you’d be wearing a transparent motorcycle helmet.

Of the more than five hundred plasticizers available, fewer than a hundred are commonly used, phthalate esters being predominant, especially in PVC.  The real name for the most often used of these chemicals is orthophthalates.  It’s necessary to know that phthalates are not limited to the manufacture of containers, which is a common thought.  They are also ingredients in cosmetics, shower curtains, teething rings and toys, primarily because they afford flexibility.  However, they have the contemptible distinction of mimicking female hormones, resulting in the feminization of boys.  It’s one thing to have swapped paternal inheritance for creeping momism as a social misfeasance, which is rectifiable, but this physical assault is unforgiveable.

There is more than one type of phthalate to which a fetus might respond, some being termed less dangerous than others.  This is equivalent to saying that a person who is legitimately allergic to tree nuts will succumb more slowly to one type of nut than another.  In both cases the outcome is undesirable.  Delay of ossification in the skeleton with resultant deformities, cleft palates, eye deformation, and decreased fetal weight are but a few of the other abnormalities offered by phthalate plasticizers.  These are dose-dependent anomalies, but determining how much is too much is subjective. (Saillenfait. 2009)  The limit for phthalate exposure is set at 5 mg/kg of body weight a day…in rats.  .  (Grande. 2006)  People are not likely to get anything close to that dose unless they eat the plastic.

To assuage any fears, know that the PETE, polyethylene terephthalate, used for peanut butter jars, bottled water and juices, and salad dressings is not chemically similar to the phthalates we address here.  Phthalates are additives, not plastics.  PETE (aka PET) is not an orthophthalate.  If the dangers come from prenatal exposure to phthalates, it pays for the new mom to read labels.  Since 2002, safe alternatives are available for the manufacture of plastic wraps, food containers, toys, PVC pipe, medical devices, and health and beauty aids.  Citric acid esters are one of them.  To find out if your product is safe, check the ingredients.  If there is no label, as perhaps with a teething ring, either call the maker or leave it on the shelf.

Prenatal Exposure to Phthalates Linked to Decreased Mental and Motor Development and Increased Behavioral Problems at Age Three

Robin M. Whyatt, Xinhua Liu, Virginia A. Rauh, Antonia M. Calafat, Allan C. Just, Lori Hoepner, Diurka Diaz, James Quinn, Jennifer Adibi, Frederica P. Perera, Pam Factor-Litvak
Maternal Prenatal Urinary Phthalate Metabolite Concentrations and Child Mental, Psychomotor and Behavioral Development at Age Three Years
Environ Health Perspect. 2011.  doi:10.1289/ehp.1103705 [Online Ahead of Print]

Saillenfait AM, Gallissot F, Sabaté JP.
Differential developmental toxicities of di-n-hexyl phthalate and dicyclohexyl phthalate administered orally to rats.
J Appl Toxicol. 2009 Aug;29(6):510-21.

Grande SW, Andrade AJ, Talsness CE, Grote K, Chahoud I.
A dose-response study following in utero and lactational exposure to di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate: effects on female rat reproductive development.
Toxicol Sci. 2006 May;91(1):247-54. Epub 2006 Feb 13.

Barbara Kolarika, Carl-Gustaf Bornehaga, Kiril Naydenove, et al
The concentrations of phthalates in settled dust in Bulgarian homes in relation to building characteristic and cleaning habits in the family
Atmospheric Environment. 42(37); Dec 2008: 8553-8559

Lyche JL, Gutleb AC, Bergman A, Eriksen GS, Murk AJ, Ropstad E, Saunders M, Skaare JU.
Reproductive and developmental toxicity of phthalates.
J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2009 Apr;12(4):225-49.

Deblonde T, Cossu-Leguille C, Hartemann P.
Emerging pollutants in wastewater: A review of the literature.
Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2011 Aug 30. [Epub ahead of print]

Yolton K, Xu Y, Strauss D, Altaye M, Calafat AM, Khoury J.
Prenatal exposure to bisphenol A and phthalates and infant neurobehavior.
Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2011 Aug 10. [Epub ahead of print]

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Plastic Bottle Education

bottlesPlastic bottles were uncommon until the late 1940’s. They remained expensive until the invention of high density polyethylene in the 1960’s. Popularity then zoomed among both the manufacturers and consumers because plastics were light in weight and cheaper to make.

The controversy about plastic safety is eternal, not only because of health issues, but also because of environmental concerns. Here’s what we need to know. Note that it’s not a good idea to refill any plastic bottle, especially with chlorine-laden tap water.

recycle-1 PETpolyethylene terephthalate—is really a misnomer because it does not contain polyethylene. It really doesn’t contain phthalates, either. It’s used in soft drink, water, and salad dressing bottles, and in peanut butter, pickle, and jelly jars. Only about 30% of the planet’s PET is used for bottles; most is used to make synthetic fibers. The antimony used as a catalytic agent in PET’s manufacture can leach into the contents if exposed to extremely high heat or to the microwave. Rating: GOOD—not known to leach chemicals suspected of carcinogenesis or hormone disruption.

recycle-2 HDPEhigh density polyethylene—is used in milk, water, and juice bottles, in yogurt and margarine containers, and in grocery and trash bags; occasionally in toiletries and water pipes. Rating: GOOD—not known to leach harmful chemicals into the contents.

recycle-3 PVCpolyvinyl chloride—is found in plastic cling films (from the deli, for example), occasionally in juice bottles, in water and sewer pipes, and if unplasticized, in vinyl siding. Traces of the plasticizers, most often phthalates, leach into the foods. Rating: BAD—plasticizers (phthalates) can disrupt normal hormone function and possibly cause cancer.

recycle-4 LDPElow-density polyethylene—is used to make frozen food bags (the low-density is bendable), squeeze bottles for honey and mustard, cling films, and flexible lids. Rating: O. K.—it doesn’t leach anything, but is difficult to recycle.

recycle-5 PPpolypropylene—may be found in reusable microwave containers, in kitchenware, yogurt and margarine tubs, some ketchup bottles, and Legos. Because it’s resistant to fatigue, it’s used to make hinges on flip-top lids. Rating: O. K.—its manufacture is somewhat hazardous, but it doesn’t leach any cancer-causing or hormone-disrupting chemicals.

recycle-6 PSpolystyrene—is commonly found in egg cartons, packing peanuts, disposable cups, plates and trays, and some cutlery. It’s one of the most widely used plastics. Foam insulation is made from PS. Rating: BAD—because it is made from suspected carcinogenic substances and may be neurotoxic, despite its approval for food use. Never put any acidic beverage into a Styrofoam cup. Wine may dissolve it, and fats may absorb it. That means using no cream in coffee.

recycle-7 Other—means polycarbonate, ABS, or BPA, none of which should be used for food contact. It has been used to make baby bottles, water bottles, eating utensils, and linings for metal cans. It may also appear inside juice boxes. It was invented in the 1930’s in the search for synthetic estrogens. It is a hormone disrupter that simulates the physiological activity of estrogen. It will leach into the contents. Rating: BAD—because it also affects neurological function, weight management, infant development and behavior, dopaminergic systems, thyroid hormone receptors, prostate function, and DNA methylation.

That PET has the term terephthalate is misleading. Terephthalate is not the same thing as phthalate. The former comes from terephthalic acid, chemical formula C6H4(COOH)2. The latter comes from phthalic acid, formula C6H4(CO2H)2. The chemical difference is easily seen.

The American Chemistry Council asserts that phthalates are not used to make beverage bottles or any other type of plastic food-contact product. Phthalates, or rather orthophthalates, are used to make PVC flexible, as found in shower curtains and vinyl flooring.
(Enneking, 2006)

A concern about PET is the leaching of antimony, a catalyst in PET manufacture, into the contents of the bottle. Any residue can be removed by washing. Some remains in the material, being released if heated.


Andra SS, Makris KC, Shine JP, Lu C.
Co-leaching of brominated compounds and antimony from bottled water.
Environ Int. 2012 Jan;38(1):45-53.

Bach C, Dauchy X, Chagnon MC, Etienne S.
Chemical compounds and toxicological assessments of drinking water stored in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles: A source of controversy reviewed.
Water Res. 2012 Mar 1;46(3):571-83.

David Biello
Plastic (Not) Fantastic: Food Containers Leach a Potentially Harmful Chemical
Is bisphenol A, a major ingredient in many plastics, healthy for children and other living things?

Scientific American; February 19, 2008

Eilam-Stock T, Serrano P, Frankfurt M, Luine V.
Bisphenol-A impairs memory and reduces dendritic spine density in adult male rats.
Behav Neurosci. 2011 Oct 17.

Patricia A. Enneking
Phthalates Not in Plastic Food Packaging
Environ Health Perspect. 2006 February; 114(2): A89–A90.

Hansen C, Tsirigotaki A, Bak SA, Pergantis SA, Stürup S, Gammelgaard B, Hansen HR.
Elevated antimony concentrations in commercial juices.
J Environ Monit. 2010 Apr;12(4):822-4.

Kate Kelland
Scientists link plastics chemical to health risks
Exposure to a chemical found in plastic containers is linked to heart disease, scientists said on Wednesday, confirming earlier findings and adding to pressure to ban its use in bottles and food packaging.
(Reuters) – Wed Jan 13, 2010

Kolšek K, Mavri J, Sollner Dolenc M.
Reactivity of bisphenol A-3,4-quinone with DNA. A quantum chemical study.
Toxicol In Vitro. 2012 Feb;26(1):102-6. Epub 2011 Nov 20.

Quantitative Analysis of Styrene Dimer and Trimers Migrated from Disposable Lunch Boxes.
Journal of the Food Hygienic Society of Japan. VOL.41;NO.3;PAGE.200-205(2000)

Schmid P, Kohler M, Meierhofer R, Luzi S, Wegelin M.
Does the reuse of PET bottles during solar water disinfection pose a health risk due to the migration of plasticisers and other chemicals into the water?
Water Res. 2008 Dec;42(20):5054-60.

Shotyk W, Krachler M, Chen B.
Contamination of Canadian and European bottled waters with antimony from PET containers.
J Environ Monit. 2006 Feb;8(2):288-92.

Vasami R
Polyethylene Terephthalate and Endocrine Disruptors.
Environ Health Perspect. 2010; 118:A196-A197.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Exposure To Motor Lubricants & Solvents

car-engineMuscle car plus motor head does not equal muscle head, although it could. The first pair evokes positive images for those who remember Holley carburetors, dual exhausts, Hurst shifters and four on the floor (gears, that is). The muscle cars of the 60’s were exciting to drive and fun to work on. That was an era when there was enough room in the engine compartment to swing a socket wrench. Of course, without air conditioning there was plenty of space to climb inside and yank a Champion or two. Considering that engine oil is to a car what blood is to the human body, you can bet that oil changes were dutifully timed events. Unlike blood, oil has changed over the years. Modern engine oils have viscosity-index improvers, antioxidants, dispersants, corrosion and foam inhibitors, and anti-wear agents that were absent half a century ago. Also some oil formulations vary from state to state. In the past, wearing oil and grease on hands and clothes was a badge of honor, an announcement that proclaimed mastery over a demanding technology. Today, protective gloves need to be the order of the day.

Mechanics and other auto workers who are exposed to used crankcase oil have experienced skin rashes, blood effects similar to anemia, headaches and tremors. Along with used oil, they are exposed to other chemicals/toxins common to the auto industry, including fluids, metal particles and fumes. Used oil may contain chemical constituents that result from the internal combustion process, such as the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) associated with benzene and related suspect carcinogenic compounds. Systemic effects of exposure to used oils and automotive fluids may include elevated blood pressure, aberrant red blood cell values (caused by lead exposure), stress to the liver (as indicated by irregularities in enzyme markers), and skin rashes (Clausen and Rastogi, 1977). In mechanics who work with new cars, interior cabin materials present no less a threat to health. Exposures to high concentrations of the aliphatic hydrocarbons that render the appealing “new car smell” are found to accumulate in the body (Yoshida, Jan 2010 and Aug 2010).

What’s the big deal?

There is more than one route to internal toxicity. You can swallow almost anything, inhale too many other things, and absorb more than a handful of the remaining damaging substances available to the environment. Compounds that contain only hydrogen and carbon are called hydrocarbons. The number of atoms of either element can change to make a different substance, one of the simplest being CH4, known as methane. During the refining of petroleum, one kind of hydrocarbon can be converted to another, giving us gasoline, naphtha, kerosene, lubricating oils and more. Adding chlorine to the C-H backbone reduces flammability and increases stability, resulting in chlorinated hydrocarbon solvents that can be used to clean, degrease and thin almost anything. At high temperatures that vary according to the compound, they give off seriously toxic gases and can enter the body through the skin.

Most foreign substances are unable to penetrate skin, the outer layer of which is an effective barrier to most inorganic particles. But damage to the stratum corneum, whether by abrasion, exposure to U-V light, or by chemical insult, can allow penetration. Lubricating oils, some waxes, and greases can induce primary irritations and photosensitivity to skin. The severity depends on the nature of the oil, the integrity of the skin, the frequency and length of contact, and individual susceptibility. Certain size molecules of chlorinated and simpler hydrocarbons, and of those with a greater number of carbon atoms than hydrogens, are more apt to enter skin than others (Riihimaki and Pfaffli, 1978) (Babu et al, 2004).

Among the riskier materials are automotive and industrial solvents made with trichloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene, known to penetrate the skin and suspected of being carcinogenic. Up to the 1970’s, trichloroethylene was used directly on humans as a general anesthetic and as a wound disinfectant. Believe it or not, it was also used as a flavoring agent for coffee. This nonsense was halted in 1977. Today it’s being used as a degreaser, as a cleaner for textiles, as an additive to inks and paints, and as an ingredient in PVC (the polyvinyl chloride in plastic plumbing). At least it won’t catch fire. Strangely, the metabolites of trichloroethylene are identical to those that follow the chlorination of municipal water supplies, namely chloral, chloral hydrate, monochloroacetic acid, and di- and trichloroacetic acids (Simon, 2005).

Tetrachloroethylene is also known as perchloroethylene, most commonly used in dry cleaning.  Exposure, either respiratory or dermal, may cause depression of the CNS, liver and kidney damage, impaired memory and headaches (DHHS, 1991). Like trichloroethylene, it is non-flammable and stable. Earlier in its history it was used in commercial refrigerants and auto air conditioners. But it’s an excellent solvent for organic materials such as the greases and lubricants used in the automotive industry…and it dissolves fats from skin, resulting in skin irritation.

Does It Hurt?

Once in the body, either through the skin or the nose, these hydrocarbons attack the cell membrane and the proteins that prevent entry of toxic compounds. A bodyguard enzyme called ATP-ase directs cell traffic by letting food and energy in, and by escorting wastes and toxins to the door. Another of its jobs is to control the balance of sodium and potassium. Sodium tells a cell to contract so you can pick up a tool, and potassium tells it to relax so you can put it down again. Chlorinated solvents, though, attack the fats from which the membrane is made and cause it to lose its shape and to resemble a half deflated basketball. Now, it can’t do its job and you get tired quickly and your thinking becomes foggy. Once ATP-ase gets dissolved by chlorinated hydrocarbons, any work that requires muscle power becomes more and more difficult. There are no alternatives to crankcase oil, but there are optional solvents and degreasers. Read the labels, wear gloves, and protect your eyes. No matter how thick-skinned we think we are, we really aren’t.


Armstrong SR, Green LC.
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Clonfero E, Zordan M, Cottica D, et al.
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DHHS 1991.  (NIOSH) Publication Number 97-155
Control of Exposure to Perchloroethylene in Commercial Dry Cleaning

Duprat P, Gradiski D.
Percutaneous toxicity of hexachlorobutadiene.
Acta Pharmacol Toxicol (Copenh). 1978 Nov;43(5):346-53.

Edelfors S, Ravn-Jonsen A.
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Jorgensen PL, Hakansson KO, Karlish SJ.
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Korpela M, Tähti H.
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Francis J. Koschier
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McDougal JN, Pollard DL, Weisman W, Garrett CM, Miller TE.
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Monteiro-Riviere NA, Inman AO, Riviere JE.
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Naskali L, Oksanen H, Tähti H.
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Neurotoxicology. 1994 Fall;15(3):609-12.

E Reese and R D Kimbrough
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Riihimäki V, Pfäffli P.
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Yoshida T.
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J Appl Toxicol. 2010 Aug;30(6):525-35.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.