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Ban on Chemicals Lowers Human Exposures, Study Finds

But exposure to similar phthalates that aren't banned has risen, researchers say

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 15, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The banning of certain types of a common class of chemicals known as phthalates has reduced Americans' exposure to the chemicals' potential harms, a new study suggests.

However, the researchers also found evidence of increased exposure to other phthalates that could pose similar health risks.

Phthalates are used to make plastic more flexible, and are found in items such as nail polish, fragrances, plastic products and building materials. In 2009, the U.S. Congress voted to ban some of the chemicals from children's products because of their disruptive effects on human hormones.

"Exposure to three of the phthalates that have been banned in children's toys has decreased over 10 years," said lead researcher Ami Zota, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University's School of Public Health and Health Services.

For other phthalates, however, exposure has increased, Zota said. "[The increase is] probably because these new phthalates are replacing the phthalates that have been phased out," she said.

Some of these newer phthalates have been studied in animals and found to be just as harmful as the banned phthalates, Zota added. "We are uncertain about their potential human health effects," she said.

Zota said she thinks companies are replacing the banned chemicals with phthalates that haven't been banned.

Although she could not say whether all phthalates should be banned, Zota said the lesson of the continuing phthalate story is a simple one: "We need to do a better job of understanding the health and safety ramifications of chemicals before they're used in a widespread manner," she said.

The report was published online Jan. 15 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Some studies have linked phthalates to DNA damage in sperm and lower sperm quality in men. Other research has found that exposure among pregnant women might alter genital development in their male children. Exposure to phthalates also has been linked to thinking and behavioral problems in boys and girls, the researchers said.

In a statement, the American Chemistry Council, a trade association for U.S. chemical companies, said there is scant evidence that phthalates are harmful.

"Information collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the last 10 years indicates that, despite the fact that phthalates are used in many products, exposure is extremely low -- much lower than the levels considered safe by regulatory agencies," the statement said.

"It is worth noting, however, that the [new study] tells us nothing about the migration rate of any particular [phthalate] from flexible vinyl; nothing about how the [phthalate] might break down in the environment; and nothing about whether minute amounts of the [phthalate] might present any sort of environmental or health issue," the statement added.

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