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More Concerns Over Phthalates

Jan 6, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP A recent report by the National Research Council says current risk assessment criteria for phthalates might be lacking.  The council called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review phthalates and their health effects, Science Daily reported, announcing that there is sufficient data to warrant an agency assessment on cumulative exposure, said Reuters.  

The report found that the government risk assessment methods used might not fully show the effects of the toxin, said ConsumerReports.org.  In response to the EPA request, the committee found that the agency could minimize risks if combined exposure is not considered since it seems, when combined with other compounds, phthalates can be more serious, noted ConsumerReports.org.

Some phthalates are among the chemicals banned in the recently passed Consumer Product Safety Commission Improvement Act, which comes into effect next month.  The Act bans three phthalates in children’s toys and products in all but the smallest of amounts and, pending additional research, bans three others.  The six phthalates, say Reuters, have been banned for almost ten years in European toys and, according to Science Daily, the European Union (EU) banned some phthalates from cosmetics and has bans in place similar to the pending U.S. ban.  Phthalates have been in use for decades and are linked to hormonal disturbances and other adverse effects and are often found in soft plastic toys and children’s products.  

Science Daily noted that phthalates are used in other products including medical devices and building materials and Reuters reported that phthalates are also used in personal-care products, food packaging, pharmaceuticals, and cleaning materials.  "Consumers can be exposed to many different phthalate compounds, so we hope this new panel will follow the report's recommendations and assess the cumulative effects of these compounds‚" ConsumerReports.org quoted Carolyn Cairns, its Program Leader for Product Safety.

Meanwhile, A recently published study of 47 medications and 8,000 participants, completed by researchers from Harvard and Boston Universities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that metabolite levels—metabolites of several common phthalates—were considerably higher in participants taking certain drugs such as mesalamine, used to treat colitis; didanosine, an HIV medication; omeprazole, an ulcer treatment; and theophylline, an asthma and lung disease medication, said ConsumerReports; it seems phthalates can be found in some medication coatings.  Worse, the team concluded that some people’s exposure levels to the toxin might exceed EPA safety thresholds, reported Consumer Reports.

Science Daily noted that the committee concluded that exposure to various phthalates in lab animals produced outcomes including effects on the development of the male reproductive system such as infertility, undescended testes and testicular development; penis and other reproductive tract malformations, such as hypospadias; and reduced testosterone levels.  Some phthalates, reports ConsumerReports.org, have been associated with liver cancer and problems with the developing fetus and are known to interfere with androgens.  Because different types of phthalates can cause hormonal interruptions “in ways that are different, yet lead to the same health outcome,” says Consumer Reports, the panel urges assessments that group chemicals by their outcomes, especially for hormone-mimicking issues. Science Daily noted that currently, the EPA looks at chemicals that are similar in structure, not similar in health effects.


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