Aaaah, Christmas. ‘Tis the season for food, friends, holidays, beach, snow (if you’re in the northern hemisphere), presents and… phthalates.
Lots and lots and lots of PHTHALATES.
I bought some Christmas paper to wrap some presents in the other day and the smell was sooooo toxic it completely stunk out the room.
Phthalates (pronounced Th-allates) are esters of phthalic acid added to plastics to increase their durability and softness.
These plasticisers are used in numerous products often given as Christmas gifts, from children’s toys to electronics, food products, nail polish, textiles and the copious amounts of Christmas wrapping that is used each year (they don’t call it the silly season for nothing!).
Studies have shown phthalates can cause birth defects, fertility problems and endocrine disorders, with children who play with plastic toys most at risk.
Product Safety Australia does not generalise about the safety of phthalates as a group, as they all have differing chemical structures and toxicity profiles, however it says “the main health concern associated with some phthalates is that animal studies have shown that high regular doses can affect the reproductive system in developing young, particularly males”.
Young children who chew or suck on plastic toys that contain phthalates ingest the phthalates over a long period and are more vulnerable to the effects of phthalates due to their developing metabolic, immunological, hormonal and reproductive systems.
Some phthalates have been banned in toys in the US and Europe, however Australia has yet to follow suit. The three phthalates that have been permanently banned by the US Congress in concentrations of more than 0.1% in children’s toys are: DEHP, DBP and BBP. Australia has thus far only limited the use of DEHP.
Having second thoughts about those plastic kid’s Christmas gifts? I hope so.
You can find a list of phthalate-free Christmas gifts for kids here.
How are department store staff members affected by offgassing?
It’s not just phthalate-ridden Christmas gifts I’m concerned about. I also think about the thousands of department store staff members, particularly teenagers, who may be affected by offgassing from plastic during their shifts.
Last time I visited K-Mart I noticed an overwhelming smell of plastic and I would estimate that around 90% of what’s in those stores is plastic derived.
The effects of offgassing from plastic are worse when there is no adequate ventilation, or when air is recycled through air-conditioning.
I’ve often asked the checkout kids how they feel at the end of a shift — whether they feel tired and or nauseous — and they’ve said they do. And it’s no wonder. They’re enclosed in a building for eight hours or more, breathing in plastic fumes that are recycled through the air-conditioning. I wonder what the long-term effects on their health are?
If you’re interested in learning more about phthalates, you’ll find a wealth of quality information at the following websites: