Is soft plastic more important than healthy lives?

Phthalates have a bad rap and deservedly so. These chemicals, commonly used as a plastic softener and in scented products, have been linked to a wide range of health issues such as asthma, breast cancer, spontaneous pregnancy loss, and reproductive development defects.

Phthalates can even affect babies before they are born. A recent study from the University of Pittsburgh found a correlation between prenatal exposure to specific phthalates and reproductive defects in male fetuses.

The study, which looked at urine and blood samples from 350 mothers and their babies, examined the levels of human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG)—a hormone created by the placenta that indirectly sustains the fetus—in female and male fetuses. HCG generally corresponds to fetal health: high levels of hCG usually means a healthier pregnancy.

The results found that in female fetuses, high levels of mono-n-butyl and monobenzyl phthalates corresponded to higher levels of hCG. But, the opposite was true in male fetuses: high levels of phthalates exposure corresponded to low levels of hCG

What does this mean? Low levels of hCG can have significant health repercussions for both mother and child. Lower levels of hCG can be linked to possible miscarriage or ectopic pregnancies. Male fetuses with low hCG present in the placenta were also more likely to have shorter anogenital distances, a condition that can lead to decreased sperm count and infertility later in life.

More research needs to be done to understand why phthalate exposure and hCG levels affects male and female fetuses differently and to explore these health risks more fully.

Phthalates can also affect babies after they are born. A recent study from the Journal of Perinatology found that premature infants in intensive care could be exposed to di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) from plastic medical tubes—and at levels that could  possibly exceed safe limits. According to the study premature exposures to DEHP “are much higher than estimated safe limits, and might contribute to common early and chronic complications of prematurity.”

Canada’s current regulations on phthalates do not go far enough to protect the health of babies. While certain kinds of phthalates cannot be used in children’s toys (and even this regulation is frustratingly vague), plastics are widely used in other products, which makes it difficult for anyone to avoid phthalate exposure.

This is why Environmental Defence will be working with the Province of Ontario to help them keep their election promise to act on this issue.  We think the best approach is to enact a regulation under the Ontario Toxics Reduction Act that would require mandatory labeling on any consumer product that contains carcinogenic or reproductive toxicants. This kind of labeling would provide information to consumers so they can understand what chemicals they could be exposed to, so they can make informed purchasing decisions. As cancer rates continue to increase in Canada, we need to take steps to protect our health.

Our children deserve it.

Support our efforts by signing our petition asking the province to enact mandatory labeling here and sign up for our Toxics Update newsletter to keep up to date on our work.