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Phthalates

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HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > APPENDIX B: Common chemicals and materials > Phthalates


Phthalates are oily, thick, colorless liquid chemicals. They are called “plasticizers” and added to plastic shoe soles, rubber material, and electronic cables to make them more bendable and soft.

Plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) contain phthalates.

Phthalates get in your body and interfere with hormones. They harm the person in contact with them, but they also harm the person’s future children. Daughters of people who come in contact with phthlates have an increased chance of developing breast cancer. Your future children, both sons and daughters, may develop fertility problems if you are exposed to phthalates.

The charts include only some of the phthalates that exist. See Learn about chemicals used in your factory and how to find information about other phthalates. See the Index of chemical names to find alternative names for phthalates.

Prevent or reduce exposure:

  • The most harmful route of exposure is through your mouth. Wash your hands very carefully before eating, drinking, and smoking to prevent any ingestion of phthalate particles.
  • Phthalates do not evaporate as easily as some other liquid chemicals. But you should still have ventilation systems that extract fumes and dilute the air (see Chapter 17: Ventilation).
  • Do not mix or pour phthalates by hand.
  • Wear gloves and other protective equipment when handling phthalates (see Chapter 18: Personal protective equipment).
  • Have an emergency plan that includes first aid treatment and protective equipment for spills, splashes, and accidental exposures. Keep necessary emergency supplies at the worksite, well stocked, and accessible to workers.


Phthalates


Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP, benzyl butyl ester, Sicol) CAS No. 85-68-7


Might harm reproductive health

might cause cancer



Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (1,2-benzenedicarboxylate, bis(2-ethylhexyl) ester) CAS No. 117-81-7


Might harm reproductive health

Known to cause cancer



Dibutyl phthalate (DBP, di-n-butyl phthalate) CAS No. 84-74-2


Might harm reproductive health

might cause cancer



Diethyl phthalate (DEP) CAS No. 84-66-2






Dimethyl phthalate (DMP, dimethyl-1,2-benzenedicarboxylate) CAS No. 131-11-3


Might harm reproductive health




Dioctyl phthalate (DOP, di-n-octyl phthalate) CAS No. 117-84-0


Might harm reproductive health



WHAT ARE THEY?
Phthalates are colorless, oily, thick liquids. Some may have a very slight sweet smell. Others have no smell at all.
DO YOU WORK WITH THEM?
Phthalates are used in the shoe industry to make soles softer and more flexible. Dioctyl phthalate is used to make rubber. Phthalates are added to glues and, in electronics, the plastic used to cover wires.
WHEN THEY COME IN CONTACT WITH YOUR BODY
SKIN

They can irritate and burn your skin. See First Aid.

EYES

They can irritate your eyes. See First Aid.

NOSE/LUNGS

They can irritate your nose, throat, and lungs, causing coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. You may also become dizzy and lightheaded. See First Aid.

MOUTH/BELLY
If they get into your mouth and belly, they can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. See First Aid and seek medical help.
WHEN YOU ARE EXPOSED OVER TIME:

All phthalates may harm your kidneys and liver, and can damage the nervous system causing weakness and numbness in the hands and feet.

Butyl benzyl phthalate, dibutyl phthalate, di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate, and dimethyl phthalate may reduce fertility in men and women and may damage the baby in the womb. Dioctyl phthalate may damage the baby in the womb.

Butyl benzyl phthalate and dibutyl phthalate may cause cancer. Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate can cause cancer.
IF YOU ARE AT RISK OF EXPOSURE:

Use elbow-length, butyl rubber, nitrile rubber or polyvinyl alcohol gloves and eye/face protection (see Chapter 18: Personal protective equipment).

Use a respirator with a full face mask and filter.
SAFER SUBSTITUTES:
Some alternative chemicals are citrate esters, adipates and phosphates. But many chemicals in these groups can also cause harm. Dioctyl terephthalate is a safer, phthalate-free alternative although its name might make you think it contains phthalates.


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