Pronounced as “THAL-ates,” these plasticizers are synthetic chemical additives used to make plastics, particularly polyvinyl chloride (PVC), soft, flexible and durable.
Because phthalates are not chemically attached to plastics, they can disperse or leak into the environment over time, and interfere with endocrine or hormone functions.
Endocrine disruptors such as phthalates may cause birth defects in baby boys, premature breast development in girls, male genital abnormalities, reduced sperm count and quality and testicular atrophy and cancer.
Given their adverse health effects, the European Union, USA and other countries have restricted or outrightly banned phthalates in children’s products, including Benzyl Butyl Phthalate (BBP), Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Di-Ethyl Hexyl Phthalate (DEHP), Di-Iso-Decyl Phthalate (DIDP),Di-Iso-Nonyl Phthalate (DINP) and Di-N-Octyl Phthalate (DNOP).
In May 2011, DEHP, a probable human carcinogen, was thrown in the spotlight as a result of the global pullout of some beverages and foods from Taiwan that were contaminated with this toxic plasticizer.
While the government has yet to restrict or ban phthalates, the Food and Drug Administration then known as the Bureau of Food and Drugs issued an advisory in 1999 warning against the health hazards caused by phthalates in PVC toys “as these have been found to leach out from the toys when they are sucked or chewed as commonly practiced by children.”
To draw attention to the presence of phthalates in back-to-school items, the EcoWaste Coalition bought five samples from formal retailers and have them analyzed by Intertek, a company providing laboratory testing services.
Out of the five samples, four were found to contain phthalates in excess of the 0.1% limit under the US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008:
1. A “Dora the Explorer” pink PVC raincoat bought from National Book Store (SM North EDSA) had 35.86 percent DINP.
2. A metal ruler with a rubberized part containing “Smileys” from National Book Store (NBS Superstore, Cubao) had 0.534 percent DNOP and 0.285 percent DINP.
3. A red PVC plastic envelope with images of “Angry Birds” from Expressions (Isetann Mall, Quiapo) had 1.89 percent DINP, 2.21 percent DEHP and 2.86 percent DIDP.
4. A “Princess Mica” PVC lunch bag bought from Expressions (Isetann Mall, Quiapo) had 2.57 percent DEHP, 0.280 percent DBP and 0.189 percent DINP.
No phthalates were detected in the fifth sample, an “Adventurer” plastic envelope. However, lead above the 90 parts per million limit was detected through X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) screening in the envelope’s red and yellow ellipsis design.
Unacceptable levels of lead were also found in the “Angry Birds”plastic envelope and in the “Smileys” of the metal ruler.
“Exposure to cadmium, lead and phthalates can adversely affect a child’s healthy and well-rounded development and should be prevented by all means such as through the provision of school materials that are guaranteed safe for kids,” stated Dr. Bessie Antonio, a pediatric toxicologist from the East Avenue Medical Center and resource person of the EcoWaste Coalition.
“To prevent exposure to phthalates and other toxic additives in school supplies, we urge consumers to insist on their right to product safety and shun all PVC-made products that are marketed for children’s use,” said Aileen Lucero of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.
“Kami ay nananawagan sa mga mamimiling Pilipino na igiit ang kanilang karapatan sa kalusugan lalo’t higit ang kaligtasan ng mga bata laban sa mga produktong maaaring magdulot ng pinsala sa kanila,” she emphasized.