Let's talk about phthalates.
|dibutyl phthalate (DBP)|
In children, they are associated with impaired testicular function due to "demasculinization": smaller penis size, incomplete testicular descent, and scrotums that are small and not distinct from surrounding tissue. Phthalates are commonly used as plasticizers to keep hard and brittle substances like vinyl soft and rubbery - hence the rubber duck in the title of the book. A subtype of this toxin, diethyl phthalate, is added as a lubricant to personal care products so that moisturizers can easily penetrate and soften the skin and fragrances last longer.
Phthalates are found in everything from toys, shower curtains, and skin care lotions, to building materials, blood and IV fluid bags, and the interiors of new cars. Because they leach out of these products and contaminate everything they come in contact with - including dust - young children face a greater risk of exposure because they physically interact more intimately with their environment, touching everything and then putting their fingers in their mouths.
The good news? Unlike many other chemicals, phthalates break down quickly in the body and in the environment. In other words, if we remove the offending toxin from our homes and workplaces, our bodies will flush them out, and our level of contamination will go down.
So replace those vinyl shower curtains, and stop using personal care products containing "fragrance" or "parfum" (code words indicating some phthalate content). Reduce your intake of fish, meat, and oils because phthalates are fat soluble and get into food because they are present in the general environment. Consume dairy products less frequently, because the tubing used to drain milk from the milking machines to the collection vessels is made of vinyl. Processed foods contain phthalates, too, because food handlers wear vinyl gloves.
When it comes to toys, where you live makes all the difference. The European Union has banned the use of all phthalates in toys and child care articles, while the US has only prohibited the sale of these items when they contain more than 0.1% of three of the phthalate types (DEHP, DBP, and BBP). Canada is finally following suit with a new regulation that meets the American standard I just mentioned. Better late than never!
As for personal care products, we're out of luck. Only the EU has completely banned DEHP, DBP, and BBP; most Canadians and Americans continue to apply a dozen phthalate-containing products on their skin every day. Because there is no legal requirement that this toxin appear on labels, the average consumer can't make smart decisions in the pharmacy. I urge you therefore to consult the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database to find out which products to avoid. Then head over to the David Suzuki Foundation website and sign a letter to the Health Minister that asks for clear labelling of the substances in the "fragrance/parfum" of personal care products.
These days I shop at health food stores and seek out products that specifically state that they are phthalate-free. What will you do to avoid this nasty toxin?
Photo credits: DBP; shower curtain; hair care products.