U.S. News and World Report came out with a bit on plastics and why some of the things in them can alter the way our hormone systems work. Phthalates [THAL-ATES] are similar to bisphenol A in some ways: They are used to make plastic, and they have been shown to alter reproductive development. Moms with high levels of phthalates in their breast milk in a Danish study were more likely to have baby boys with lower-than-usual levels of testosterone. In another study stateside, boys born to moms with high blood levels of phthalates had abnormally developed genitalia.
Oh, and guess where both chems hide out? In lots of stuff made for kids, right where they can do the most damage .
Yep, phthalates are used to make PVC, polyvinyl chloride, which is fashioned into all sorts of kids' stuff: Plastic toys, bibs, mattress pad covers, even teethers and pacifiers. Some good news: California has banned phthalates in products for kids, as has Europe, and some retailers like Toys "R" Us have pledged not to sell any items with phthalates by the end of 2008.
Until they're banned entirely, though, kids can still get to 'em. Some rules of eye and nose:
- Check the label. Many manufacturers have phased out PVC, and some items will plainly display "PVC-free" on a label. Call the manufacturer to make sure. Can't find a number? Don't buy it.
- If it stinks, it's probably offgassing phthalates, and inhalation is one way toxins can enter the body. Notice that smell when you open a new shower curtain or yoga mat? That's the plasticizers leaching out. If you can smell them, you're inhaling them. Let such items air out thoroughly before use, and make sure Junior doesn't gnaw or crawl on 'em.
- I've said it before — keep toys age- and use-appropriate. Perhaps someday phthalates will be banned entirely, but right now anything intended for kids older than 3 may have phthalates (except in California).
- Perfume, creams, and nail polish may contain phthalates, too. It's most commonly added to create a product's fragrance and is not usually on labels, but if it is, it will say diethyl phthalate. So ladies, desist or shop carefully.