New Government Report on Phthalates Sends Mixed Messages

Post Updated on April 11, 2018

Phthalates are chemical plasticizers used to make plastics like vinyl pliable or soft, and they are in almost everyone’s blood.  These chemicals are used in all types of products including children’s items like plastic teething rings, vinyl mattress covers and even baby lotions. This is a serious problem considering phthalates and phthalate substitutes are suspected of being connected to hormonal disruptions, asthma and even obesity.

In mid-July, a panel overseen by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a final report on phthalates and phthalate substitutes. The CPSC is a relatively small federal agency tasked with overseeing that products are safe. (For example, they issued the regulations for crib design, including the banning of drop sides.)

The “Report on Phthalates and Phthalate Alternatives” does not call for a ban on all phthalates in children’s products. Instead, it recommends which phthalates should be allowable and which are not.

Phthalates Are Born Drifters

One aspect of concern regarding phthalates is that they don’t stay put. Because phthalates don’t chemically bind to plastics, they leach out over time. Have you ever felt a once soft vinyl cover that has become cracked and crunchy? That’s because the phthalates have left the plastic and entered the environment.

Phthalates are scary drifters. (Photo from iStock from a painting by artist Yaroslav Gerzhedovich)

Phthalates are scary drifters.
(Photo from iStock from a painting by artist Yaroslav Gerzhedovich)

Phthalates and phthalate substitutes can get into children in multiple ways. They can be transferred from the mother to unborn babies. Babies can also take in phthalates through skin absorption, primarily from products like lotions. Children can also inhale phthalates. Since so many of the plastics used for baby products contain phthalates, most children are being exposed to phthalates on a daily basis.

What the New Report Recommends ( … or Get Ready for LOTS of Abbreviations!)

Effective April 25, 2018, the CPSC has issued a final rule prohibiting children’s toys and child care articles that contain concentrations of more than 0.1 percent on five phthalate chemicals, specifically diisononyl phthalate (DINP), diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP), di-n-pentyl phthalate (DPENP), di-n-hexyl phthalate (DHEXP), and dicyclohexyl phthalate (DCHP). The Congressional prohibition on three phthalate chemicals, specifically di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), under the CPSIA remains in full force and effect. This final rule brings to eight (8) the total number of phthalates restricted from use in children’s toys and child care articles in concentrations exceeding 0.1 percent.

The new report restricts a third phthalate called DINP which was previously banned on an interim basis. DINP, by the way, was added in 2013 to California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer (even though the chemical industry claimed there was inadequate proof.)

The previous report, however, recommends allowing two phthalates that were previously banned on an interim basis: DNOP and DIDP. The previous report itself is almost a whopping 600 pages and examines many, many different chemicals.

What Does It All Mean?

It’s important to remember that this is only a set of recommendations and not law. The CPSC will decide whether to accept or reject all or some of the recommendations. A decision could be reached by January 2015.

Naturepedic simply does not use phthalates or phthalate substitutes in mattresses. While GREENGUARD tests only for a select list of phthalates, our philosophy is to avoid those chemicals altogether, meaning we hold ourselves to an even higher standard than GREENGUARD does. No vinyl, no phthalates. This simplifies things, and we don’t need a 600 page document to explain it.

Got some time on your hands? You can read the full report here.

About the author

Sebastian
Sebastian

Dale “Sebastian” Luckwitz is Sustainability Officer at Naturepedic. His mission is to help Naturepedic expand its positive impact beyond numerous product benefits into a wider lifecycle approach. To this end, Dale is involved in strengthening collaborations and uncovering new ways to make business greener and more efficient. He is also a vocal advocate for Naturepedic and loves talking organic mattresses whenever possible.

In addition to saving the planet, Dale likes reading, music, cooking, antiques, more music, and playing with his kids. He also is an avid movie watcher whose guilty pleasure is old black and white monster movies.

Dale holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching and Learning with Technology.