European Union scientists state need for better control of phthalate

The EU’s scientific committee on Toxicology, Ecotoxicity and the Environment (CSTEE) has warned in a new opinion released this week that research on the damage that a phthalate, DEHP, can do to the environment contains many assumptions “that are not justified”.

CSTEE’s opinion is its response to a Swedish report’s conclusions on the effects of DEHP in sediments, soils and secondary poisoning in the food chain. Critically, CSTEE says: “In many cases there is a need for limiting the risk, or at least for more information and for a more sound justification of unclear assumptions.”

CSTEE also expressed concern over the very large range of values for the physical-chemical properties most relevant to environmental fate assessment. It says the range seems reasonable “but the rationale is not sufficiently described and justified”.

It also points out that the report makes no mention of the potential for environmental risk from MEHP, DEHP’s major metabolite – the substance that DEHP is transformed into by the body. The committee further criticises the report for making no attempt to assess the potential of DEHP for ‘biomagnification’, i.e. concentration in the food chain, for either aquatic or terrestrial environments.

Substantial increases in the factors affecting limits of DEHP in soil are proposed. The report’s conclusion that DEHP is not of concern for sediments and the limit defined are described as unreliable and “without any acceptable justification”. CSTEE concludes that there is a need for risk reduction measures for sediment-dwelling organisms.

For secondary poisoning, CSTEE says there is a need to limit the risk and develop a proper model for biomagnification. It also urges a local risk characterisation for soils, and says there is a need for more information and assessment of the effects in terrestrial invertebrates as well as the biomagnification effects in the aquatic environment.

The EC also renewed the ban on DEHP and five other phthalates in childrens’ toys and child-care articles this week. CSTEE’s report on the effects of DEHP on human health warns that exposure may be very high for patients undergoing dialysis.

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