2010-Phthalates in Children’s Apparel: Is There a Need for Concern?

Phthalates in Children’s Apparel: Is There a Need for Concern?

Joshua S. Ward, Philadelphia University


Plastics are found virtually everywhere, from food packaging to medical devices. Polyvinyl
chloride (PVC) is a common plastic and is especially rigid. Chemicals known as plasticizers are added to make PVC soft and pliable in order for it to be used in its many applications.
Plasticizer molecules position themselves between the chains of plastic polymers, such as PVC, increasing the free volume and lowering the transition temperature (the temperature below which molecules have little relative mobility for the plastic), rending the material softer. Phthalates, a family of esters of polycarboxylic acids with linear or branched aliphatic alcohol of moderate chain length, are commonly used for their plasticizing abilities and are subsequently found in a myriad of consumer products, particularly those made from PVC.
However, their useful chemical attributes may be offset by growing concern regarding
their toxicity. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors; they mimic the hormone estrogen. In rat studies in which perinatal exposure to phthalates was studied, males had decreased anogenital distance (AGD), reduced testicular weight, and developed permanent nipples, a condition not normally observed in male rats (Gray et al., 2000).
There have also been observations of decreased AGD in human male infants who have been prenatally exposed to phthalates (Swan et al., 2005). In addition to decreased AGD, infant
boys can also experience decreased genital size (Luttrup et al., 2006). Moreover, prenatal exposure to these chemicals has been linked to alternations in androgen-responsive brain development in humans (Swan et al., 2009), reducing masculine play behavior in young boys. Developmental issues such as these that have led to growing concerns regarding the pathways of phthalate exposure to humans.
There are several pathways of phthalate exposure which include ingestion, inhalation, IV
injection, and absorption through the skin (Schettler, 2005). One can ingest contaminated food or pharmaceuticals containing phthalates within the encapsulation material (Hauser et al., 2004).
Household dust and medical breathing tubes can also contain phthalates. Phthalates can be absorbed through the skin when it comes into contact with phthalate containing chemicals, cosmetics, modeling clay, toys, and even phthalate containing clothes (Schettler, 2005; Stringer et al., 2000). Moreover, owing to their relatively volatile nature, phthalates may off-gas from consumer products and may be inhaled.
Phthalate exposure in children is through environmental matrices such as air, water, and food, but also through interaction with consumer products such as toys (EPA, 2009). Observational studies have shown that children between 3 and 12 months in age spend a great deal of time with something in their mouths, be it toys meant for mouthing, other toys, non toys, and their own fingers (Könemann, 1998). Many of these toys are made of PVC and contain phthalates and other plasticizers to make them soft and chewable.
A limited number of studies have determined the extent to which phthalates can leach out into saliva or a saliva simulant while sucking/chewing on a variety of toys (Könemann, 1998; Niino et al., 2001; Bouma and Schakel, 2002).