Phthalates are colourless liquids most often used to manufacture polyvinyl chloride plastics. While some phthalates occur naturally in crude oil and coal, the vast majority are man-made.
Phthalates are found in a number of consumer products, including important medical devices such as blood bags and intravenous tubing. They are also found in vinyl flooring and some plastics, and they are used in non-petroleum-based lubricating oils and as carriers for perfumes in cosmetics.
Rodent studies have found a range of effects associated with different phthalates. In general, phthalates have effects on laboratory animals that include changes to the liver, kidneys, reproductive systems, and birth defects. They are suspected of affecting hormone systems (also known as endocrine disruptors). More research is needed into the possible effects that phthalates may have on people. The science on these chemical substances is constantly evolving, and although they are found in the environment, we need to know more about whether the levels at which they are found are affecting the health of Canadians.
The Government of Canada has worked with the plastics industry to have some phthalates removed from the manufacture of children's soft vinyl products in Canada, and phthalates are no longer found in soft vinyl teethers and baby products. The Medical Devices Bureau of Health Canada is developing Clinical Practice Guidelines to assist in the proper administration of devices plasticized with phthalates during health care delivery. There is active research and assessment continuing on phthalates.
Being informed is the best protection. Find out more about phthalates and children in the 2006 Industry Guide to Canadian Safety Requirements for Children's Toys and Related Products.
Health effects for any substance depend on the amount of exposure, and how that exposure occurs.