Environmental Health Promotion
This mini-blog series is part two of the “Environmental Health Promotion” project, which deals with global health challenges that are harmful to both the environment and people’s well-being. Its main goal is to raise public awareness about how we can take care of the environment and improve global health. It also offers ways for individuals to protect themselves from these issues. In the first part of the report, we looked at five global health concerns: Antibiotic Resistance, PFAS, Vaccines and Immunization, Microplastics, and Mycotoxins. This next section will explore E-Waste, Formaldehyde, Triclosan, Bisphenol A, and Phthalates. These concerns will be explained in detail, including what the problem is and what individuals can do to help solve it. Since there is only one planet Earth, all of us need to take action. By getting involved, each of us can play a part in preserving the health of our planet, ensuring that future generations can enjoy the same quality of life that we do.
You can find the other blogs related to the second report here:
Phthalates are a group of chemical compounds extensively used in plastic manufacturing to improve properties like flexibility. They are also added to many consumer products, including cosmetics, personal care items, toys, and household goods. The widespread use of phthalates has raised concerns due to their potential negative effects on both human health and the environment.
Exposure to phthalates primarily occurs through the consumption of food and beverages that have come into contact with phthalate-containing products. Additionally, inhaling phthalate particles in the air can contribute to exposure. Children, in particular, are more vulnerable because of their habit of putting their hands in their mouths and frequent contact with various objects. Consequently, phthalate particles found in dust may pose a greater risk to children than to adults. Once inside the body, phthalates undergo metabolic processes and are converted into substances that are quickly eliminated through urine.
In the United States, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) establishes regulations regarding the levels of certain phthalates in children’s toys and childcare articles. It places restrictions on the use of certain phthalates, preventing their concentrations from exceeding defined limits.
Similarly, in the European Union, the REACH regulation includes measures to control the use of phthalates. Specifically, it places restrictions on the presence of specific phthalates, ensuring they do not exceed certain thresholds in toys, childcare articles, and cosmetics.
Many countries around the world have also implemented regulations concerning phthalates. For instance, Japan’s Food Sanitation Act and Canada’s Prohibition of Certain Toxic Substances Regulations are notable examples. These regulations impose limitations on the use of particular phthalates in specific products, with the aim of ensuring compliance with safety standards and reducing exposure risks.
How serious is the problem?
Phthalates possess properties that can disrupt the endocrine system by interfering with the body’s hormonal regulation, potentially posing risks to reproductive and developmental processes. These compounds have the ability to mimic or block hormone signals, leading to a range of adverse effects on these vital physiological pathways.
Exposure to phthalates during pregnancy has been associated with developmental abnormalities, including disruptions in neurodevelopment, behavioral issues, and adverse effects on the respiratory system in children. Furthermore, certain types of phthalates have been linked to reproductive disorders, which manifest as reduced fertility, impaired sperm quality, and abnormalities in the development of male reproductive organs. These effects are believed to result from the endocrine-disrupting properties of phthalates, which can interfere with normal hormonal regulation and disrupt the processes related to reproduction.
Phthalates have the capacity to pollute aquatic environments, posing risks to the fragile equilibrium of aquatic ecosystems. They can have detrimental effects on the reproductive abilities of aquatic creatures, disrupt the functioning of endocrine systems in marine species, and contribute to broader ecological disturbances.
Improper disposal of products containing phthalates or the release of phthalate particles into the atmosphere can result in soil and air pollution. These pollutants present hazards to both terrestrial ecosystems and human health. The contamination of soil and air with phthalates can lead to adverse consequences for the environment, upsetting ecological harmony and potentially jeopardizing the well-being of various living organisms, including humans.
What can I do?
To reduce your exposure to phthalates, consider following these recommendations provided by the Natural Resources Defense Council:
- Familiarize yourself with phthalates and their presence in products. Learn to recognize the most commonly used phthalate compounds listed in product ingredient lists.
- Be cautious with cosmetics and avoid products that contain fragrance. Cosmetics may not always disclose all ingredients or provide warnings about phthalates, so some research and investigation may be necessary on your part.
- Choose fresh, unprocessed foods whenever possible. Avoid heating your food in plastic containers, as phthalates can seep into food through processing equipment like tubing, gloves, conveyor belts, lids, adhesives, and plastic wraps.
- Remove vinyl materials from your home. Items made from vinyl, such as shower curtains, mini-blinds, and flooring, are highly likely to contain phthalates.
- Stop using air fresheners. This category of products can be particularly problematic, as even air fresheners labeled as “all-natural” or “unscented” may still contain phthalates.
Author: Fion Chan*
Edited by: Jasmine Therese Arcilla
*Fion is SOGH’s Environmental Sustainability Manager. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and is pursuing a Master of Medical Science in Global Health at the University of Gothenburg.