4 June 2003
call for more action on phthalates
are phthalates, and why are there health concerns?
YORK. An organization of U.S. pediatricians is calling for further
research into the effects on children of chemicals used to make
fragrances last longer and soften plastic in toys and medical tubes.
chemicals, known as phthalates, have been linked in previous studies
to birth defects and other harmful effects in animals, according
to the report, published in the June issue of Pediatrics, the journal
of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
AAP's Committee on Environmental Health notes in the report that
"no studies have been performed to evaluate human toxicity
from exposure to these compounds."
impetus to do the report was a study published by the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that found that some people
have very high levels of phthalates in their blood, explained Dr.
Michael W. Shannon, a member of the AAP committee.
also noted that media attention about phthalates is likely to have
parents asking questions and expressing concern.
wanted to make sure that pediatricians are educated and are able
to advocate for children's health," Shannon said in an interview
with Reuters Health.
the report, lead author Dr. Katherine M. Shea and other members
of the committee note that two phthalates, DEHP and DINP, are of
particular concern "because of their known toxicities and the
potential for significant exposure in sensitive populations."
concern is especially high for premature infants in intensive care
units, where they may be exposed to DEHP in plastic medical tubing
and bags, explained Shannon, who noted that these infants are immature
both developmentally and physiologically.
such, Shannon said, "we very much want to see more research
on the report, Marian Stanley, manager of the Phthalate Ester Panel
at the American Chemistry Council said, "the report ... is
incomplete and unjustifiably alarmist, because the report does not
include significant recent research findings."
Shea countered that she and the members of the committee took into
account all published information available at the time the report
was being written.
response to the criticism of being alarmist, Shea said, "nowhere
in the document do we say or imply that parents should take any
specific actions. Rather we suggest that pediatricians should become
educated and participate in the process of determining what is safe
she notes that a main goal in writing the report was to educate
pediatricians about the complexity of determining and quantifying
risks to children from chemical exposures, using phthalates as examples,
and to prepare them to be active participants in the process.
far the exposure data on phthalates in young children is incomplete
and while the toxicity data is pretty good, it's in animals not
babies," said Shea.
don't think anyone knows all the answers, but we need to be health
protective and eliminate unnecessary exposures and, when possible,
minimize medical exposures, especially in premature infants in intensive
care," Shea told Reuters Health.
December last year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told
medical professional societies that certain devices may expose people
to a toxic dose of DEHP. The agency said at the time DEHP might
be found in IV bags and tubing, blood bags, nasogastric tubes, dialysis
bags and tubing, and other tubing used to support and feed premature
FDA advised that, if available, alternatives to phthalates should
be should be used to keep plastics soft.
far, the U.S. government has declined to ban the use of phthalates.
The European Union banned their use in some products, including
baby toys, in 1999. In the U.S. and Canada all phthalates have been
voluntarily removed from infant bottle nipples, teethers and toys
intended to go into an infant's mouth.