“Phthalates” is not the most convenient word to work with — weird to spell and hard to figure out how to pronounce (THA-lates)… READ MORE
… But the chemicals have an important story to tell about the science and politics of chemicals. You may be surprised to learn you are already intimately familiar with phthalates: think of the potent aroma of a vinyl shower curtain, or “new car smell.” Produced in the amount of one billion tons per year worldwide, phthalates are used to soften vinyl plastic and hold scent and color in a variety of consumer products. More than two decades ago scientists began building a body of evidence that phthalates can be powerful reproductive and developmental toxicants in laboratory animals, particularly for males exposed in the womb. For more on phtthalates read Body Burden: Phthalates
“For 25 years we’ve known that phthalates disrupt the production of testosterone critical for the masculinization of the male species,” said Earl Gray, a top phthalate researcher at the US Environmental Protection Agency. Hundreds of animal studies show that phthalates like dibutyl phthalate (DBP) can block male hormones called androgens, which are responsible for making a male into a male. The result of this anti-androgen effect is what scientists call the “de-masculinization” of male offspring: low sperm counts, testicular atrophy, undescended testicles and birth defects on the underside of the penis such as hypospadias, where the opening of the urethra occurs on the underside of the penis instead of the tip. The spectrum of health effects is so common in lab animals exposed to phthalates that scientists have come to call it “phthalate syndrome.”
In 2005, Shanna Swan, PhD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, at the University of Rochester, measured the levels of phthalates in the bodies of pregnant women, then studied their male infants after birth. The study found a “significant relationship” between the level of phthalates and changes in genitals of their baby boys. The pregnant women with the highest phthalate levels- equivalent to the levels currently found in a quarter of US women — were more likely to have baby sons with smaller penises and incompletely descended testicles. The boys were also most likely to have a shorter distance from their anus to their penis (called anogenital distance, or AGD), which is an indicator of masculinity.
In addition to Swan’s study, other human studies on phthalates had started to emerge. Harvard School of Public Health researchers, Dr. Russ Hauser and Susan Duty studied men in an infertility clinic and found that men who had higher levels of DBP in their bodies had lower sperm quality and lower sperm mobility. In a separate study, of 379 men from an infertility clinic, the Harvard researchers correlate diethyl phthalate (DEP) with DNA damage in men’s sperm, a condition that can lead to infertility or miscarriage. DEP is the phthalate used most widely in cosmetics. The chemical appears to be getting into people’s bodies from the products, according to another study conducted by Dr. Hauser’s team. Men who used cologne or aftershave within 48 hours before urine collection had more than twice the levels of DEP in their bodies as men who did not use cologne or aftershave, the study found. For each additional personal care product used, the DEP metabolite in their bodies increased by 38%.”
“Women’s Environmental Network in the UK and Health Care Without Harm Europe bought beauty products from stores in Britain and Sweden and sent them to a lab to test for phthalates. The European results were similar to the American: 79% of products contained phthalates, and more than half contained multiple phthalates. The story got more attention than anyone could remember.
As in the US, the European environmental groups could test only a small number of products (at $175 per product), leaving an open question as to which of the thousands of other products on store shelves contained phthalates. As in the US, it was legal for companies to put unlimited amounts of phthalates and other toxic chemicals into cosmetic products.
But, in Europe that was about to change. The EU was getting ready to pass a new amendment to the Cosmetics Directive that would ban animal testing, and ban chemicals that were known or highly suspected of causing cancer, birth defects or genetic mutation from use in cosmetics. Two phthalates, DHEP and DBP were put on the prohibited list, along with hundreds of other chemicals. The phthalates were classified as a Class 2 reproductive toxicant in the EU, meaning that they were highly suspected of causing reproductive damage.”
No such legislation exists in the US. Europe prohibits 1,110 chemicals, the US, just 9.
Manufacturers can legally hide up to 600 ingredients in the word FRAGRANCE.
“Major loopholes in federal law allow the $20 billion dollar-a-year cosmetics industry to put unlimited amounts of phthalates into many of personal care products with no required testing, no required monitoring of health effects, and no required labeling.”
“According to Skin Deep, (cosmeticsdatabase.com) up to 80% of products may contain one or more hidden hazards that are not even listed on the product labels.”