A Look at Phthalates and Their Regulation in the United States

As one of the most ubiquitous classes of chemicals, we encounter phthalates every day. Found frequently in household products, personal care products, and a wide range of industrial materials, these substances have been linked to adverse health effects, both in animals and humans. In this blog post, we discuss phthalates and review their regulation in this country.

About Phthalates

Phthalates are a group of man-made chemical substances used extensively in many consumer and industrial products and applications. Often referred to as plasticizers, these odorless, colorless, low volatility chemicals are esters of phthalic anhydride and are added to plastics (particularly polyvinyl chloride) to increase their strength and flexibility.

Exposure to phthalates can occur in a variety of ways. A common means of exposure is via consumption of foods (including liquids) that have come in contact with materials containing these chemicals. Release of phthalates from products that contain them may be precipitated by extended storage, heating, movement or agitation, and more. In addition to exposure via ingestion, dermal absorption and exposure via inhalation are also possible.

Phthalate exposure has been linked to adverse health effects in animal studies and some human studies. Among these are:

  • Interference with functioning of hormonal system
  • Reproductive tract malformation/diseases
  • Early onset puberty
  • Decreased levels of testosterone
  • Reduced sperm count/fertility impairment
  • Adverse impact on kidneys, liver, and lungs

Research continues to be conducted to evaluate the full spectrum of adverse health effects that phthalates can cause.

Some Common Examples

A diverse range of phthalates exists. Some of the more common examples are shown in the table below.

Substance NameCAS Number
Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP)85-68-7
Butyl cyclohexyl phthalate (BCP)84-64-0
Butyl decyl phthalate (BDP)89-19-0
Di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP)84-74-2
Di-n-hexyl phthalate (DNHP)84-75-3
Di-n-pentyl phthalate (DNPP)131-18-0
Di-n-propyl phthalate (DPP)131-16-8
Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP)117-81-7
Di(2-propylheptyl) phthalate (DPHP)53306-54-0
Di(n-octyl) phthalate (DNOP)117-84-0
Diallyl phthalate (DAP)131-17-9
Dibutoxy ethyl phthalate (DBEP)117-83-9
Dicyclohexyl phthalate (DCP)84-61-7
Diethyl phthalate (DEP)84-66-2
Diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP)84-69-5
Diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP)26761-40-0
Diisoheptyl phthalate (DIHpP) 
Diisohexyl phthalate (DIHxP)146-50-9
Diisononyl phthalate (DINP)28553-12-0
Diisooctyl phthalate (DIOP)27554-26-3
Diisotridecyl phthalate (DITP)68515-47-9
Diisoundecyl phthalate (DIUP)85507-79-5
Dimethyl phthalate (DMP)131-11-3
Ditridecyl phthalate (DTDP)119-06-2
Diundecyl phthalate (DUP)3648-20-2
n-Octyl n-decyl phthalate (ODP)119-07-3

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Regulation Efforts

Under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the EPA has initiated several measures to help regulate phthalates. Among these are the development of the Phthalate Action Plan and the addition of a number of key phthalates to the Agency’s Priority Testing List. In addition to efforts at the federal level, numerous states have put forth their own phthalate regulations in recent years. These include:

  • Standards for water quality established by Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, and North Carolina for certain phthalates that the EPA has not regulated.
  • Certain phthalate water quality standards (more rigorous than those of the EPA) implemented by California, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, and North Carolina.
  • Recent legislation prohibiting the use of phthalates in products used by consumers, introduced by Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.

Additional detailed information on phthalate regulation in the United States may be found on the EPA website.

Learn More

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