We can all sing chapter and verse on the chemicals need to make FR clothing either resistant or proof but what about the fabric on the other clothes and the risks!
Phthalates (pronounced THA-lates) are a group of chemicals that can make products (usually plastics) softer and more flexible. They are sometimes called plasticizers, but many other chemicals are also called plasticizers.
Phthalates are used in a range of products, including:
- polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, which is a specific type of plastic used in some products, such as shower curtains
- medical plastics, such as PVC IV bags and tubes
- children’s toys and supplies
- cosmetics, such as nail polish and perfumes
Chemicals of particular concern include highly fluorinated compounds used to make durable waterproof finishes, such as those on rain jackets. These compounds are known to be extremely environmentally persistent and are associated with adverse neurological, endocrine and other health effects.
You can be exposed to phthalates by using products that have them. Phthalates aren’t chemically connected with the plastic products that contain them, which means they can leach out of the products.
The average Canadian is exposed to fairly low levels of phthalates. People can be exposed to higher levels of phthalates during medical procedures if the medical tubing and other devices are made with PVC plastics. Children can be exposed to phthalates by sucking on toys made of plastics that contain phthalates.
Formaldehyde is a known respiratory and skin irritant and carcinogen that has long been used to create “permanent press” and other wrinkle-resistant fabrics. This involves applying formaldehyde and essentially baking it onto the fabric, in some cases enlisting the assistance of other hazardous chemicals.
Phthalates, which are associated with adverse hormonal effects, are used as plasticizers or softening agents in polyvinyl chloride — PVC — plastics used to make clothing (shoes and gloves, for example) and in decorative printing on T-shirts and other garments. Also identified as endocrine disruptors are chemicals called organotins, frequently used as biocides — including in textile production — and to stabilize PVC. Recent research has also detected unintentional by-product polychlorinated biphenyls —PCBs — in certain colors of printing ink used on clothing, including for children.
Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) as a possible cause of cancer
DEHP is a commonly used and studied type of phthalate, found in vinyl products and many medical plastics such as IV bags and tubes. Diisononyl phthalate (DINP) is another commonly used phthalate, which is also found in many vinyl products like wire and cable, flooring, toys and garden hoses.
DEHP causes liver tumours and fertility problems in rats and mice. Several studies have also shown that the more animals were exposed to DINP, the more likely they were to develop tumours. There is also evidence that certain phthalates act as endocrine disruptors. This means they may mimic or behave like certain hormones and can interfere with the normal hormonal activity in our bodies. This can lead to physical abnormalities, fertility problems and certain types of cancer.
Phthalates or phthalate esters, are esters of phthalic acid and are mainly used as plasticizers (substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity). Phthalates are manufactured by reacting phthalic anhydride with alcohol(s) that range from methanol and ethanol (C1/C2) up to tridecyl alcohol (C13), either as a straight chain or with some branching. They are divided into two distinct groups, with very different applications, toxicological properties, and classification, based on the number of carbon atoms in their alcohol chain. They are used primarily to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Lower-molecular-weight phthalates (3-6 carbon atoms in their backbone) are being gradually replaced in many products in the United States, Canada, and European Union over health concerns. They are replaced by high-molecular-weight phthalates (those with more than 6 carbons in their backbone, which gives them increased permanency and durability).