On June 22, 2015 the magazine Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) published its current issue with a cover story on phthalates. The cover story includes an introductory by Michael McCoy, assistant managing editor at C&EN, and three main articles:

First, Britt E. Erickson, senior editor at C&EN, outlines the efforts of regulators and retailers to restrict the use of potentially harmful phthalates in certain consumer products. Restrictive action is increasingly pushed by public health and consumer advocacy groups who demand removal of phthalates from all consumer products including construction materials, Erickson writes. On the other hand, chemical manufacturers oppose broad scale restrictions on phthalates, especially in construction materials, warning that science is being distorted and used for scare tactics. In her article Erickson gives an overview of the most commonly used phthalates in commercial products, including their toxicity potential, regulatory restrictions, as well as possible chemical replacements.

Next, Alexander H. Tullo, senior editor at C&EN, reports on chemical companies seizing the opportunity to produce and commercialize phthalate replacements. Due to rising health and safety concerns over phthalates and resulting restrictions in commercial products, there is a growing market for non-phthalate plasticizers, Tullo writes. Thus, a number of specialty chemical makers, some of which are phthalate manufacturers themselves, are strategically investing in the development and production of phthalate alternatives. Tullo gives examples of some of the leading companies and their novel products.

Finally, Stephen K. Ritter, senior correspondent at C&EN, explains how the chemical structure of phthalates plays a key role in their potential to interact with the body’s hormone system. Many natural and synthetic chemicals have similar size and shape as hormones or share structural features with them, Ritter writes. This makes them capable of interacting with the body’s hormone receptor proteins or with enzymes involved in the synthesis or activation of hormones. Hormonal activity of chemicals can thus fool the body into overreacting, underreacting, or responding at inappropriate times. Ritter further discusses the structural features of certain phthalates that make them prone to endocrine activity and in contrast the structural advantages of phthalate alternatives that are of lesser concern.

Phthalates are mainly used as plasticizers in polyvinyl chloride (PVC), making PVC a soft, flexible and durable material for various applications such as synthetic leather, garden hoses and vinyl flooring. Phthalates are also used as solvents e.g. in rubber, perfumes and nail polish, and as additives in food packaging.

Read more

Michael McCoy (June 22, 2015). “A reckoning for phthalates.C&EN

Britt E. Erickson (June 22, 2015). “Regulators and retailers raise pressure on phthalates.C&EN

Alexander H. Tullo (June 22, 2015). “Plasticizer makers want a piece of the phthalates pie.C&EN

Stephen K. Ritter (June 22, 2015). “Phthalates’ structural truths.C&EN

Food Packaging Forum (October 4, 2012). Phthalates.