A group of compounds called phthalates can turn rigid plastic into soft materials, giving us products from artificial leather to garden hoses. Now that they’re just about everywhere — and detectable in most human blood samples that have been tested — consumers have become wary of the plasticizers’ potential health effects. Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, explores the science of phthalates, their decline and efforts to find alternatives.
In the first article in the series, C&EN Senior Editor Britt Erickson explores how retailers and regulators are responding to concerns that phthalates might cause reproductive and developmental effects. An initial round of controversy resulted in restrictions on phthalates in baby products. Now construction and broader consumer applications are seeing cuts in use. To replace phthalates, chemical companies are coming up with alternatives, as Senior Correspondent Alexander H. Tullo reports in a second article.
Finally, Senior Correspondent Stephen K. Ritter explains the science behind many phthalates’ ability to disrupt normal hormonal activity. But scientists still don’t understand all the details about chemical structure and toxicity. This means that even when they find phthalate replacements, total safety is not guaranteed.
Introduction: “A Reckoning for Phthalates”
On retailers and regulations: “Pressure on Plasticizers”
The industry response: “Hard Choices for Soft Vinyl”
The science: “Phthalates’ Structural Truths”
Chemical & Engineering News