In March 2014, the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine released a report entitled Hormones Disrupted: Toxic Phthalates in Maine People. The report captures the stories and reactions of 25 Mainers who provided urine samples to test for the presence of seven different phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates), a group of hormone-disrupting chemicals that are widely used in consumer products. MOFGA's deputy director Heather Spalding was one of the participants.
Results showed that every one of the 25 men and women who voluntarily participated had detectable levels of phthalates in their bodies. In addition to the individual testing results, the “Hormones Disrupted” report includes a summary of the medical science on phthalates, the sources of phthalate exposure in homes, and the history of governmental and business policies to address the dangers of phthalates and other hormone-disrupting chemicals.
The report concludes that “Mainers are widely exposed to phthalates, which cause serious health problems and are difficult to avoid due to lack of public information” and that “our chemical safety system fails to protect pregnant women and children.”
The report recommends that “the State of Maine should act now to close the information gap” and “the use of phthalates should be phased out in favor of safer alternatives.”
Dozens of human health studies link phthalate exposure to serious health effects, including abnormal development of male sex organs; harm to the brain, causing learning and behavior problems in children; and increased rates of asthma and allergies. Phthalates harm reproductive health through reduced fertility, premature birth, early puberty in girls, breast growth in boys, and increased risk of prostate and testicular cancer. Phthalates are also “obesogens” that interfere with fat-related hormones linked to obesity and metabolic disorder. Pregnant women and children are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of phthalates and also face higher exposures, but teens and adults are also at risk.
Phthalates were first developed in the 1920s, and have been produced in large quantities since the 1950s, when PVC plastic was first commercialized. Phthalates are used to soften vinyl plastic and are routinely added to hundreds of everyday products and building materials found in the home, including lunch boxes, kids’ backpacks, school supplies, rain coats and boots, shower curtains, tablecloths, floor tiles and wall covering. They are also a common ingredient of “fragrance” found in many cosmetics, lotions and other personal care products. Phthalates readily escape from products and enter the human body through breathing, eating and skin contact, including from frequent hand-to-mouth activity and teething by toddlers.
The Alliance is circulating a petition that would initiate rule-making before the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on the reporting of phthalates in consumer products. The rule would elevate four phthalates to “Priority Chemical” status under Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act and require manufacturers to report on which of their products sold in Maine contains the priority phthalates. Supporters believe this public information would empower consumers to avoid dangerous products and create market incentives for safer alternatives.
All seven of the phthalates tested in Maine people have been prioritized by various state, federal, and European government agencies due to scientific concern about hazards and exposures. Six are named in a “Phthalates Action Plan” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; six are “Chemicals of High Concern to Children” in the State of Washington; five are banned in toys and childcare items by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission; five are known to cause cancer and/or developmental toxicity by the State of California; and four are banned as “Substances of Very High Concern” by the European Chemicals Agency.