Phthalates A Growing Problem

A Growing Problem

Phthalates (pronounced fal-ates) are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. They are often called plasticizers.

They are not only used in plastics, but they are also found in cosmetics, which we apply directly to our skin, and then wash off, in the drains, into the sewers, in to the rivers, in to the sea.


Where to Phthalates Come From?

Phthalates reach the natural environment via pesticides, industrial lubricants, and phthalate-containing garbage (including plastics) that humans throw away. Because everything of humans use eventually get disposed of into the environment, and in many instances directly or indirectly to the ocean, it is inevitable that phthalates are found in the ocean.

Phthalate ester plasticizers are widely used in synthetic polymers, especially polyvinyl-chloride commonly used for packaging, storing and preserving food. Ocean plastics, often contain Phthalates, and broken down to nano plastics, are readily gobbled up by numerous type of sea create, whether directly (filter feeders such as oysters) or indirectly such as dolphins or sharks.

Where do we Find them?

The ubiquity of phthalate esters have been widely reported in various environmental samples in the developed countries of Europe and America. Phthalates were found in the water, fish, and other aquatic organisms of the Gulf of Mexico.

Why are Phthalates a Problem?

They are suspected to be carcinogenic, and to make matters worse they are lipophilic, binding to the fatty tissues of organisms, and tend to concentrate along the ecological food chains, a process known as bioamplification, or bioaccumulation.

Phthalates are also an endocrine disruptors, endocrine disruptors “interfere with the synthesis, secretion, transport, binding, action, or elimination of natural hormones in the body that are responsible for development, behavior, fertility, and maintenance of homeostasis (normal cell metabolism).

People Studying Phthalates

In the film A Plastic Ocean input on the nature of Phthalates is given by Professor Susan Jobling.

Professor Susan Jobling‘s research aims to better understand how contaminants influence wildlife and human health, from the individual to the population. Of great concern to [her] and an increasing number of other scientists is a group of contaminants known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals, endocrine disruptors or EDCs. EDCs are synthetic chemicals that interact with the human body’s glands, hormones and hormone receptors, known collectively as the endocrine system

How to Reduce Levels of Phthalates in Oceans

There are three main ways we can reduce the levels of phthalates that we find in the oceans, or the organism that live there.

Better Sewage Works

Primary microplastics (that contain phthalates), and phthalates from cosmetics enter the rivers, and therefore the oceans via untreated sewage. Raw sewage being dumped in to rivers, and ergo oceans is a very common problem in the UK.

A report by the Guardian Newspaper reveals that water firms discharged raw sewage into England’s rivers 200,000 times in 2019.

The loophole by which this is achieved is based around “storm bypass”, or “combined sewer overflows“. These overflows are “legal” in some cases, but they are very damaging nonetheless.

A great deal of the UK’s sewer infrastructure was built in the 1970’s, and the UK population has increased by 10,000,000 people since then.

Better Waste Management

This is a large subject. One example: tax virgin polymers so recycled polymers become competitive, companies would actively seek out plastics to recycle, and less would end up in the ocean.

Clean Up Beaches

Plastic Strewn Beaches are the engines of microplastic creation. Whilst some animals eat bigger plastics (sea birds for example), the main damage is done by small animals eating microplastics, and then being eaten in turn by larger animals, with plastics and associate chemicals concentrating up the food chain.

If we can clean up the piles of plastic, currently residing on remote beaches around the UK coast. We can help to reduce these micro plastic inputs, small though it may be.

Use of Non-Phthalate Plasticisers

Below are a list of plasticisers that DO contain Phthalates:

table showing plasticisers that contain phthalates

However, there are a long list of plasticisers to choose from that do not contain Phthalates:

  • ATBC: Acetyl tributyl citrate
  • DINCH: Di-isononylcyclohexane-1, 2-dicarboxylate
  • DOTP: Dioctyl terephthalat
  • ESBO: Epoxidized soybean oil
  • Mesamoll II: alkylsulphonic phenyl ester (ASE)
  • TETM: Tri-2-ethylhexyl trimellitate
  • COMGHA: Acetylated monoglycerides mof fully hydrogenated castor oil

. . . and many more. For a full list see the Interesting PDF on Phthalates

Phthalates in the News

The Chartered Institute of Trading Standards (CTSI). has recently released a report shows that Phthalates in children’s toys as have elevated levels of Phthalates.

The legal limit for Phthalates is 0.1%. However various toys tested showed 100 or 300 times this level.

Read about full storey at CTSI Website.