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    From: rachel@rachel.org <rachel@rachel.org>
    To: rachel-weekly@europe.std.com <rachel-weekly@europe.std.com>
    Date: Tuesday, September 19, 2000 7:55 AM
    Subject: Rachel #708: HERE WE GO AGAIN: PHTHALATES

    My apologies for sending you a second copy of #707 in error.
    Rachel's will be published next during the week of October 9.--PM

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    Several new studies indicate that common industrial chemicals
    called phthalates (pronounced tha-lates) in food and water may be
    interfering with development of the reproductive system in both
    boys and girls.

    ** For 20 years, large numbers of baby girls in Puerto Rico
    between the ages of six months and 2 years have been experiencing
    premature breast development, a condition called precocious
    thelarche (pronounced thee-larky). Since 1970, there have been
    4674 cases of precocious thelarche recorded in Puerto Rico, where
    the condition is now occurring in 8 out of every 1000 baby girls,
    or just under 1%. Compared to a group of baby girls studied in
    Minnesota, precocious thelarche in Puerto Rico is 18 times as

    For 20 years, scientists have tried to link the alarming epidemic
    in Puerto Rico to artificial hormones in meat, pharmaceutical
    manufacturing wastes, and infant formula containing high levels
    of phytoestrogens (plants that contain natural estrogen-like
    chemicals), but no satisfactory explanation has emerged. Now
    researchers have found evidence linking precocious thelarche to
    common phthalates.[1,2]

    Blood samples from two groups of girls in Puerto Rico -- 41 baby
    girls with precocious thelarche and 35 with normal development --
    were examined for pesticides and phthalates. Pesticides were not
    found in either group. Phthalates were present in the blood of
    68% of the precocious thelarche group and 14% of the control
    group. Phthalates tend not to bioaccumulate, so phthalates
    measured in blood are likely to reflect current exposures, not
    past exposures.

    Phthalates are common industrial chemicals used in building
    materials, food packaging and food wrap, toys and other
    children's products, medical devices, garden hose, shoes, shoe
    soles, automobile undercoating, wires and cables, carpet backing,
    carpet tile, vinyl tile, pool liners, artificial leather, canvas
    tarps, notebook covers, tool handles, dishwasher baskets, flea
    collars, insect repellents, skin emollients, hair sprays, nail
    polish, and perfumes.

    (The Environmental Health Network in California has petitioned
    the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require labeling of
    perfumes that contain toxic phthalates, such as Calvin Klein's
    Eternity. See http//:users.lanminds.com/~wilworks/-

    One particular phthalate -- di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP
    -- accounted for 88% of the total phthalates measured in the
    precocious thelarche group and 80% of the total phthalates in the
    control group. The average levels of DEHP in the control group
    were 70 ppb and in the precious thelarche group 450 ppb -- more
    than six times as great.

    Some phthalates mimic estrogen (female sex hormone) and others
    interfere with androgen (male sex hormone).[3,4,5] In laboratory
    animals, some phthalates can cause birth defects and can disrupt
    hormones, leading to altered sexual development. Regarding
    reproductive and developmental effects in laboratory animals,
    phthalates vary in potency, with DEHP being about 10 times as
    potent as the other phthalates.[6]

    The average daily consumption of DEHP by children in the U.S. is
    estimated to be 5.8 milligrams per day.[1] The most important
    source of DEHP exposure is contaminated baby formula, food and
    water contaminated by contact with plastic containers and food
    wrap, and plastic toys and pacifiers made soft by the addition of
    DEHP. Because Puerto Rico is an island, above-average quantities
    of prepared foods are shipped there packaged in
    phthalate-containing plastics.

    This small study does not prove that phthalates are causing
    premature sexual development among baby girls in Puerto Rico,
    but, combined with what is known about phthalates from laboratory
    animal studies, it provides a strong suggestion that phthalates
    may be contributing to the epidemic.

    To maintain current awareness of phthalates and other
    endocrine-disrupting chemicals, check back regularly at http://-

    ** A very recent study reveals that phthalates are present in the
    blood of adult Americans "at levels we are concerned about,"
    according to John Brock, a chemist with the federal Centers for
    Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. Brock and his colleagues
    studied phthalates in the blood of 289 adults and found levels
    "higher than we anticipated."[6,7]

    Many laboratory products (such as plastic tubing) contain
    phthalates. As a consequence, phthalates are often found in
    samples analyzed in laboratories because lab equipment
    contaminates the samples. For the past decade, scientists have
    been finding phthalates in human tissue samples, but they have
    assumed they were measuring lab contamination. Consequently, no
    one has raised an alarm about phthalates in adult humans, until
    this month.

    To measure phthalates in human urine, Brock and his colleagues
    developed specialized techniques for identifying metabolic
    byproducts of phthalates; in other words, they learned how to
    measure the chemicals that are produced when phthalates are
    processed by a human liver and kidney. By this means, Brock could
    be sure his team was measuring human exposures to phthalates and
    not merely contamination introduced into samples from laboratory

    Brock tested for and found seven phthalate metabolites in human
    urine. The four phthalate metabolites found at the highest levels
    came from DEHP, DEP (diethyl phthalate), BzBP (butyl benzyl
    phthalate) and DBP (di-N-butyl phthalate). "From a public health
    perspective, these data provide evidence that phthalate exposure
    is higher and more common than previously suspected," Brock and
    his colleagues concluded.[6] They offered additional reasons for

    ** The highest phthalate levels were measured among women of
    child-bearing age (20 to 40) -- about 50% higher than among
    groups of different age and gender.

    ** DEHP, DBP and BzBP are known to cause birth defects in
    laboratory animals. (Note that BzBP is sometimes known as butyl
    benzyl phthalate, or BBP.)

    ** DBP is toxic to the testicles.

    ** The metabolites of BzBP and DEHP that Brock measured are toxic
    to sertoli cells (the cells that produce sperm). Next month a new
    study will conclude once again that for three decades there has
    been a steady (1.5% per year) decline in the quantity of sperm
    produced by men living in industrialized countries.[8] No one
    knows if exposure to phthalates is involved in the decline.

    ** Administration of DBP and DEHP to pregnant rats interferes
    with the fetal development of male rats. DBP is widely used in
    perfumes, nail polishes, and hair sprays, allowing for efficient
    absorption through the lungs.

    Phthalates were recently measured in baby food and infant

    The National Research Council (NRC) (of the National Academy of
    Sciences) discussed two phthalates in its July, 1999, study of
    endocrine-disrupting chemicals (see REHW #665 ). The NRC noted
    that female rats exposed to BzBP in water prior to mating
    produced male offspring with significantaly smaller-than-average
    testicles, and reduced sperm counts.[10,pg.21] A subsequent
    attempt to reproduce this experiment failed to achieve the same
    results, for reasons that remain unknown.

    The NRC also noted that DBP has been shown in several animal
    studies to cause atrophy of the testicles, and destruction of
    sertoli cells (the cells that produce sperm). A multigenerational
    study concluded that "DBP is a reproductive and developmental
    toxicant to both adult and developing rats and that DBP had
    greater effects on the second generation than [on] the first
    generation."[10,pg.122] A different study showed that pregnant
    rats dosed with DBP at a particular time during pregnancy
    produced offspring with significant incidence of undescended
    testicles.[10,pg.123] In humans in industrialized countries, the
    occurrence of undescended testicles (a condition called
    cryptorchidism) has been increasing in recent decades.

    Dr. Louis Guillette, a University of Florida zoology professor
    and a member of the NRC committee that studied hormone-disrupting
    chemicals, says that Brock's study of phthalates in adults "is
    going to rewrite how we look at phthalates.... Phthalates have
    been something of concern up to this point. Basically they're
    going to leap upward in terms of concern."[7]

    In the U.S., the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has created
    a new Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction
    (CERHR). In June of this year, a CERHR panel of experts concluded
    its evaluation of seven phthalates. Although the CERHR study has
    not yet been published, CERHR issued a press release July 14 in
    which they acknowledged that the panel of experts had expressed
    "concern" that exposure of pregnant women to DEHP might adversely
    affect the development of their offspring.[11] DEHP is the
    chemical measured in baby girls with precocious breast
    development in Puerto Rico.

    As scientific and medical evidence accumulates, linking
    phthalates to reproductive disorders in humans, the chemical
    industry is digging in its heels for a 50-year fight. The
    industry produces a billion pounds of phthalates every year and
    has no intention of acknowledging that its products may cause
    birth defects, infertility or hormone disruption.

    Because the chemical industry is so wealthy and donates huge
    quantities of cash to election campaigns (a perfectly legal form
    of bribery), in the U.S. there is almost no way to get rid of
    chemicals that have frightening characteristics, like phthalates.
    They are here to stay. "I can tell you that we're going to be
    working on phthalates for a long time here at CDC," says John
    Brock.[7] On the other hand, a citizen revolt could change the
    election financing system almost overnight and immediately reduce
    the political power of the chemical industry. Change is possible,
    but only if people get angry and get involved. (See


    [1] Ivelisse Colon and others, "Identification of Phthalate
    Esters in the Serum of Young Puerto Rican Girls with Premature
    Breast Development," ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVES Vol. 108,
    No. 9 (September 2000), pgs. 895-900. Available at http://-

    [2] Janet Raloff, "Girls may face risks from phthalates," SCIENCE
    NEWS Vol. 158 (September 9, 2000), pg. 165.

    [3] Catherine A. Harris and others, "The Estrogenic Activity of
    Vol. 105, No. 8 (August 1997), pgs. 802-811. Available at:

    [4] Susan Jobling and others, "A Variety of Environmentally
    Persistent Chemicals, Including Some Phthalate Plasticizers, Are
    No. 6 (June 1995), pgs. 582-587. Available at: http://-

    [5] Janet Raloff, "New Concerns About Phthalates; Ingredients of
    common plastics, may harm boys as they develop," SCIENCE NEWS
    Vol. 158 (September 2, 2000), pgs. 152-154.

    [6] Benjamin C. Blount and others, "Levels of Seven Urinary
    Phthalate Metabolites in a Human Reference Population,"
    2000), pgs. 972-982. Available at: http://ehpnet1.niehs.nih.gov/-

    [7] Daniel P. Jones, "Troubling chemicals detected in people,"
    HARTFORD [Connecticut] COURANT August 26, 2000, pg. unknown.
    Available at http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/-

    [8] Shanna H. Swan and others, "The Question of Declining Sperm
    Density Revisited: An Analysis of 101 Studies Published
    1934-1996," ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVES Vol. 108, No. 10
    (October 2000), pgs. 961-966.

    [9] Jens H. Petersen and T. Breindahl, "Plasticizers in total
    diet samples, baby food and infant formulae," FOOD ADDITIVES AND
    CONTAMINANTS Vol. 17, No. 2 (February 2000), pgs. 133-141.

    [10] Committee on Hormonally Active Agents in the Environment,
    National Academy Press, 1999).

    [11] National Toxicology Program, Center for the Evaluation of
    Risks to Human Reproduction, Expert Panel Review of Phthalates,
    press release dated July 14, 2000, available at http://-
    or by phoning Bill Grigg at (301) 402-3378 or Sandra Lange at
    (919) 541-0530.

    In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 this material is
    distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior
    interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes.
    Environmental Research Foundation provides this electronic
    version of RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH BIWEEKLY free of charge
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                                            --Peter Montague, Editor

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