Many phthalates can affect the development of the unborn child and they can also affect the ability of women and men to have children. Research has shown how several phthalates interact with the steroid hormonal system, and based on their chemical structure most phthalates are likely to have similar effects.
Many phthalates are very toxic to aquatic life, and several of them also cause long-lasting effects.
Function and use
Phthalates are commonly added as plasticisers to hard plastics to make the material soft, increase flexibility, prevent cracking and facilitate moulding by lowering its melting temperature.
Phthalates are not chemically bound to the material and can therefore easily be leached out. Phthalates may also function as carriers in cosmetic products.
Areas of application
Phthalates are primarily used in PVC plastic but are also used in rubber. The content of phthalates may be up to 40% of the finished product. The largest amounts of phthalates are found in products for flooring, wallpapers, electricity cables and foil.
Other uses are in tarpaulins, artificial leather commonly used in car parts and furniture for example, plastic-coated fabrics such as rain gear and shoes, and in plastic toys.
Phthalates may also be added to various types of paints and adhesives as plasticisers for binders. Phthalates may also be included in perfumes and skin creams.
Legislation around the world, including in the EU and the USA, restricts the use of certain phthalates in clothing, footwear and accessories. Leading clothing and footwear brands have banned the use of phthalates in the production of their products.
A number of phthalates are listed on both the REACH Candidate List, in Annex XVII, in CoRAP as well as in the RoHS directive.
More information about phthalates and how to replace them can be found in our report: Replacing Phthalates.
The most efficient way to phase out the use of phthalates would be to use materials that do not need plasticisers. Plastics such as PP and PE have a softer character.
Many alternative plasticisers are available on the market, of which several have been identified as safer alternatives by some authorities. For example: Pevalen from Perstorp, Proviplast from Proviron, OXSOFT from Oxea and other alternatives from Mampta Polycoat and NayaKem.
Other possible replacements include:
Acetyl tributyl citrate (ATBC)
Tri-n-butyl citrate (TBC)
Di(ethylhexyl) adipate (DEHA)
Dioctyl adipate (DOA)
Bis(2-ethylhexyl) terephthalate (DEHT/DOTP)
Dioctyl sebacate (DIDS)
Trioctyl trimetallitate (TOTM)
Trimethyl pentanyl diisobutyrate (TXIB)
Epoxy fatty acid methyl ester
There is ongoing research based on mixtures of benzoate esters, esters of bio-based 2,5-bis(hydroxymethyl)furan (BHMF) which have been protected with patents.
See below for some safer alternatives on TCO’s Certified Accepted Substance List, including possible phthalate replacements:
Bisphenol A diphosphate
Bis(2-propylheptyl) phthalate (DPHP)
Diisononyl adipate (DINA)
Dimethyl phthalate (DMP)
Epoxidised soya bean oil (ESBO)
White mineral oil