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Are New Chemicals in Plastics Safer?

Are New Chemicals in Plastics Safer?

In the 1973 film The Sting, Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) cheats at a high stakes poker game to set up Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw.) After the game Lonnegan says to one of his henchmen, “What was I supposed to do—call him for cheating better than me?”

Welcome to the high stakes world of plastics manufacturing! In their deck of cards are phthalates, plasticizers used to make plastics soft and malleable. Problem is they’re hormone disruptors that may cause everything from impotence to cancer.

Related: Should I Avoid Products with Phthalates?

But the problem is that whenever one phthalate gets banned, it seems a substitute comes along. And before regulators ban that one—it takes the pot. For instance, when di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP) were banned in children's toys and child-care articles it reduced their usage by 37 percent. Then up popped DIBP (diisobutyl phthalate), increasing its presence 206 percent in the same products.

Avoiding phthalates isn’t easy; manufacturers don’t have to list them on labels. Here's your best bet:

  • Look for products that say they’re phthalate-free.
  • Avoid plastics with the recycling code #3V or 3PVC.
  • Look for these abbreviations for phthalates: MEP (in personal care products to enhance fragrance), DEP (listed in the California Prop 65 as a reproductive and developmental toxicant), MiBP (nail polish), DiNP (in toys, flexible plastic toys), DiDP (ditto for DEP).
  • Urge legislators to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)—this act only requires safety testing for 200 of the 84,000 chemicals in use today.

Related: What are the Risks of Phthalates?

Medically reviewed in May 2018.

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