Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Phthalates: It's not Just a Fragrance. It's a Birth Control!

Part 2 of a series on different toxins that are convenient but largely unnecessary in our lives. Much of my info comes from the excellent book, Slow Death by Rubber Duck (chapter 2). If you don't have time to read the book, read this instead. Today's issue is phthalates (thay-lates), in which we have to choose as a species whether we'd rather smell pretty or continue to reproduce

I didn't care much about what the government did or what things were made of until I was pregnant  in 1993, and my midwife said, "You know not to wear nailpolish when you're pregnant don't you?"  I had no idea....

* makes fragrances last longer (in room deoderizers, deoderants, perfumes, shampoos...)
* makes plastics soft and rubbery (vinyl in children's toys like Barbies and rubber ducks, shower curtains, window blinds, raincoats, and they leach out of soft plastics like medical IV bags, milk bags, packaging on a lot of food, soft plastic jars, and plastic wrap - all of which can also decompose and become dust that we breath in)
* helps products penetrate our body (personal-care products like lotions, creamy make-up, nailpolish)
* They're not in baby wipes or diaper cream, but they are in baby shampoos and lotions.

* Use ceramic or glass bowls in the microwave.  Don't ever microwave food in a plastic container even if it says microwave safe.  That could just means it won't melt, not that you won't get chemicals leaching into your food.  Remember, better safe than sorry.
* Don't wear fragrances, creamy make-up, or nailpolish.  Try to get used the way you look and smell without it all.  You can go without make-up and not be a hippie.  You will still have friends and attract a mate.  I've had no problems since giving it all up back in university (mainly from sheer laziness). 
* Use a deodorant stone.   I find they work for a few weeks, then stop working as well.  I don't know why.
* Use hemp fibers, wood, glass, and metal instead of plastics whenever possible.  Board and batton cladding looks way better than vinyl siding anyway.  Remember when pop all came in glass bottles and you'd spend Saturday morning collecting them from school yards and other teenage hangout for the deposit money and then buy a chocolate bar for a quarter before your parents were even out of bed yet?  I do. Jones Soda still just comes in glass bottles.  And no HFCS either! 
* Light a candle under a splash of essential oils to make a room smell nice.
* Shampoo and soap are a stopper for me.  I get the least fragrant ones because perfumes make my eyes water anyway.  But I'm not at the stage of making my own yet. 
* Yet another reason to avoid processed foods which tend to have significant levels of phthalates in them. 
* Check the EWG's Skin Deep database for ingredients of cosmetics.  They rate the toxicity of all sorts of products.  Or look at this study which found phthalates in 52 of 72 products. 
* Write to every food company that's started packaging in plastic when, just months ago, they used glass. 

Prevalence / Persistence
* They are in all of us even infants, and they cross the placenta during pregnancy.  But they break down relatively quickly.  If we stop making them, they'll disappear from most areas.  But currently phthalates add up, and often people get them from a variety of sources. 
* They're in the soil, but don't get absorbed by vegetable matter, but do accumulate in fats of animals (and their milk - and our milk).  So if you wash your vegies and avoid meat and dairy, you're fine there. 

Health Concerns
* Serious reproductive problems:  they mimic estrogen, so create male demasculinization or TDS (smaller penis size, incomplete testicular descent, scrotums that are not distinct from surrounding tissue; "phthalate syndrome" - it shortens the length between the anus and base of the penis, hykpospadias - a penis deformity, and impaired sperm quality)  "The male reproductive system is acutely sensitive to phthalates." - Stolen Futures
* Testicular cancer
* Studies found a very strong correlation between phthalate levels in the mother and gonad problems in her baby boy
* Asthma
* Low-birthweight births and premature births
* Attention deficit disorder
* Autism
So, you're beginning to think you just need to worry if you're pregnant or your son starts wearing make-up? Think again:
* There's a strong link with breast cancer as phthalates activate estrogen receptors; and elevated phthalates levels are linked to premature breast development, which ups the cancer risk. Children are particularly sensitive to hormonal disruptors. How cute is nailpolish on your little girl now?

Why it's still in use:
* Vinyl toys have been played with for fifty years and nobody got sick from them.  It's hard for people to see the connection between chewing on a plastic teething ring and low sperm count thirty years later. 
* The Toy Industry Association (TIA) has a strong lobby.
* People care more about smelling good than avoiding cancer.  They care more about smoking than cancer too.

*1998 - EU proposed an emergency ban of six phthalates in toys likely to be gummed by infants which was made permanent in 2005.  In the US, 12 different groups petitions for the CPSC to ban toys containing phthalates, but nothing happened.
* 2003 - US - the CPSC ruled that PVC toys aren't a health risk.  Industries cheered.  They were called "the new tobacco lobby."
* 2007 - Fiona Ma in San Francisco banned phthalates in certain products, then she introduced the  California Toxic Toys bill which Schwarzennegger signed.
* 2008 - George W. Bush signed a law prohibiting the sale of children's toys with more than 0.1% phthalates. The legislation made industry demonstrate that phthalates are safe before allowing them back on the market - a first with respect to toxic pollutants.  No toys were ever recalled though, so many are still in the hands of children.  And it's not banned from food packaging or anything else that also affects children.  Just toys.  
* 2009 - Health Canada's thinking about banning some phthalates in toys.  


Robin Feltner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robin Feltner said...

I completely agree. There's just no need to use toxic substances when there are so many other safer choices available. It became such a concern to me that most bath & body stores are producing toxic garbage, essentially, that I started my own company! (www.SupernaturalBotanicals.com) Drastic times calls for drastic measures! Keep fighting the good fight :)

Marie said...

Cool store Robin!

Citizen Green said...

Great information! I totally agree with you about not heating or microwaving any food in plastic, even if the plastic is microwavable. Too many times we have seen that manufacturers do not disclose all the dangers in their plastic products.

Linda A

Lisa Sharp said...

Great info but no need to go without makeup and smelling nice. Makeup brands like Everyday Minerals are safe. Also there are water based nail polishes like Honeybee Garden's that are totally safe. And you can find perfume that is made from organic essential oils, or make your own (it's super easy!).

Also you don't have to make your own shampoo to get safe shampoo.

Check out this site, it rates products and tells you how safe they are.

Anonymous said...

Since giving up artificial fragrances I find that they irritate me. You can smell clean without smelling like 'spring meadow', and in fact it's less aggravating to the rest of us that way. It's hard to believe that I used to smell so perfume-y all the time, too.

I really hope that some of the movement on pthalates progresses. It is so disheartening that we use chemicals like these everywhere, with no proof as to their safety. I don't want to be a lab rat!

mother earth aka karen hanrahan said...

the most thorough phthalate conversation I've ever read - superb!

Marie said...

Citizen Green - It's funny how often people won't listen to that simple piece of advice though. They just don't believe it's an issue.

Lisa, I've got that link on the post, but I would like to move towards zero chemical shampoo. Even essential oils irritate me (throat and eyes more than skin).

Amber - I'm hoping for the day perfumes are banned in theatres like smoking is! I won't hold my breath though, except when I've paid lots to see a concert, and ended up surrounded by people drenched in fragrances.

Karen - thanx! There's more above and below this post! See here for all the toxins in the series.

Christy K. said...

Jus wanted to let people know about candles. So many on the market are made out of paraffin which is actually a by-product of the oil industry. The refineries use the oil to make diesel fuel, asphalt and various other things then the remainig sludge is bleached and called paraffin. When this type of candle is burned it emits toxins into the air we breathe causing all sorts of potential health problems, gets into air ducts and can even blacken walls. The greener route is to burn soy candles. They have no toxins, are cleaner burning and also support the American farmer.

Sara said...

You know what is going to happen? You are going to avoid all of this stuff and then get hit by a bus. I'm not saying that you shouldn't live the life you want to live. You should. However, the sad truth is that being born is a death sentence. The minute you hit this earth, you are on your way to death's door -inch by inch. You can't avoid it. When it is your time to go, you are going to go - whether you have worn great nail polish or not. I'm not trying to rain on your parade here, but there will always be things that harm us. Things we know about and things we don't know about. I have a healthy kid, but I wore nail polish, fragrances AND heated things up in plastic when I was pregnant. I have never smoked, drank or done any kind of drugs ever in my life, but you know what? I'm still going to die one day. So having said all of this, I'm going to run out and get me one of my favorite vege burgers and then I'm going to go relax in the sun on the beach. I know.....the sun is going to get me, but at least I will be full from my vege burger.

Marie said...

Sara, I think you're missing the point. First of all, my grandma smoked like a chimney and lived to her 90s, but that doesn't mean that it's harmless to smoke. It's a bit of a crap shoot, but the odds are stacked heavily against people who choose that particular vice. Because you're still healthy even though you wore nailpolish as a kid doesn't mean it's not harmful. And my mom smoked when she was pregnant with me and I'm reasonably healthy - BUT maybe I would have been a bit taller or had a bit higher IQ if she hadn't. At the very least, know the risks your taking. Some people drink their entire pregnancy with no clear ill effects, but that's too far from my risk comfort.

But more to the point, it's not about micromanaging my life to stay safe from every possible cause of harm out there. I drink beer and lay in the sun, and I still eat meat. It's about alerting the masses to the crappy job the government is doing by avoiding conflict with corporations and refusing to ban chemicals that are KNOWN to be harmful to people. Phthalates are banned in Europe - many chemicals are largely because Thatcher had a chemistry degree. We can dramatically reduce the cancer rate tomorrow by banning a bunch of chemicals that are not at all necessary to our well being. But we won't, because they make people too much cash.

So our only option is to be aware and avoid the accumulation of toxins in our system, and for each of us to bug the gov. as much as we can to do their job protecting the people.

Robin Feltner said...

Just noticed the compliment (sorry about that)...thanks so much, Marie!

The Ingredient Detective said...

Great post. I've also read "Slow Death by Rubber Duck", and was astonished at some of the revelations in there!!

After going more than a year, without using any products that contain "fragrance", I now find them overpowering and sickly sweet.