U.S. regulators need to examine whether a controversial class of chemicals that are found in many plastic products including children's toys and baby bottles can be harmful, a panel of experts said Thursday.
Phthalates and other hormone-disrupting chemicals found in thousands of everyday consumer items - including food and beverage containers, bug spray, shower curtains, perfume, pesticides, and plastic toys – pollute the air, water and dust.
Studies conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) and independent scientists have found phthalates in nearly everyone, including pregnant women and babies.
If the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does an assessment, it could lead to new regulations on products with phthalates, the panel said.
"If we don't do this as a cumulative risk assessment focused on these adverse effects, we're going to be underestimating risks," said Deborah Cory-Slechta Director, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI).
A cumulative risk assessment will allow the agency to determine the level to which humans can safely be exposed to such chemicals while creating regulations protecting Americans from harmful exposure levels, says Sarah Janssen of the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental group.
Janssen hopes that other government agencies including the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will also consider the cumulative effect of hormone-disrupting chemicals in medical equipment, toys, food additives and other products.
“We are exposed to a complex soup of chemicals,” Janssen says. “It’s a warning that cannot be ignored.”
This research is enough evidence to begin the assessment right away, rather than waiting on additional study findings, Cory-Slechta says.
While the report focused mainly on phthalates, Cory-Slechta notes that other products such as pesticides used in food, also lower testosterone levels.
Human and animal studies link these chemicals to a wide spectrum of health disorders, from genital malformations to reduced sperm counts. Scientists are also studying the chemicals’ link to testicular cancer, the report says.
The European Union has banned phthalates in cosmetics and children’s products and toys.
Law last summer Congress banned several phthalates in children’s toys and products. The CPSC has said that it will allow stores to continue selling toys made with these chemicals, as long as they were manufactured before the law takes effect February 10, 2009.
Chris Bryant of the American Chemistry Council, an industry group, expressed concerns regarding the panel’s recommendations, saying Congress had already asked the CPSC to conduct a risk assessment on phthalates.
The panel’s proposal for such a broad EPA risk assessment “essentially could result in a study without limits, financially or otherwise, Bryant said.
Another report released this week said; U.S. regulators are planning more research into bisphenol A, or BPA, a controversial chemical that is found in many plastic products, indicating they have no immediate plans to amend its position.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a letter on Monday, stating the agency has planned a “large research effort” with studies spanning several years intended to assess the effects of the chemical in laboratory animals including monkeys and rodents. #