With children across the country returning to school this week, many parents are just completed the infamous back-to-school shopping trip, wherein backpacks, notebooks, pencils, markers, and locker decorations were purchased. This year, some scientists and politicians are warning about the dangers of phthalates.
Phthalates are also known as “plasticizers.” This is a group of industrial chemicals, used in everything from raincoats, shower curtains, toys, and children’s backpacks. According to the Environmental Working Group, phthalates can disrupt the endocrine system, decrease a man’s sperm count, and possibly even cause cancer.
This week, the Center for Health, Environment and Justice released the “Back-to-School Guide for PVC-Free School Supplies.” The report tells parents how to avoid PVCs, calling them “poisonous.” A number of media sources have picked up the story and are cautioning parents against purchasing products containing these chemicals. However, not everyone is necessarily ready to call phthalates a health hazard just yet.
An op-ed piece appearing on Forbes.com this week blasts the allegations made by some politicians and environmental groups, noting that many of the studies only involved animals or test groups so small that it would be irresponsible to draw sweeping conclusions from them:
Most recently, in NeuroToxicology, the Mt. Sinai Hospital researcher linked phthalates and another controversial plasticizer, bisphenol A, to a variety of health problems including neuro-developmental delays, behavioral issues and reduced fertility. Her evidence? She examined urine samples from 10 Mennonite women —yes, 10 of 1.5 million Mennonites worldwide. From a science perspective, any conclusions she might make from such a dismally small sample is literally ridiculous—but the media had a field day, nonetheless.
The truth is that there simply is not enough information out there at this point to make a definite determination regarding the safety of phthalates. These chemicals not not highly regulated, and science is still emerging about any potential long-term effects.