Phthalate declassified as carcinogen, but reproductive worries remain

A phthalates banned in the EU for use in children's 'mouthing' toys has had its carcinogenic classification downgraded by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).


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Meeting in Lyon in February, IARC experts assessed new scientific evidence regarding DEHP and concluded that “the mechanism by which DEHP increases the incidence of hepatocellular tumours in rates and mice is not relevant to humans”.
Previously, IARC had classified DEHP as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”, but has now altered the classification to read “not classifiable as to carcinogenicity to humans”.
DEHP is one of six phthalates subject to an emergency EU ban. The decision to issue a ban was made after a scientific panel told the EU that current testing methods do not allow accurate measurement of the level of phthalates that migrate from softened PVC toys to children’s mouths.
The European Council for Plasticisers and Intermediates has consistently argued that phthalates in toys do not pose a health risk to children and have welcomed the IARC re-evaluation of DEHP.
Despite the IARC’s decision, concerns remain regarding DEHP’s potential to increase the risk of foetal abnormalities and to harm the reproductive health of children. The US Centre for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) has not yet completed its assessment of DEHP, however a report issued in December 1999 acknowledged that “laboratory animal studies of DEHP have shown it to induce fetal [sic] malformations and adverse effects on the reproductive system”. The report also indicated that DEHP exposure rates may be high enough to impact on human health.
In deciding to ban DEHP and five other phthalates, the EU cited both potential carcinogenic and reproductive health impacts.
A full EU risk assessment, as set out in EU Chemicals Policy, on DEHP has not yet been completed. Sweden is the rapporteur country for the chemical.

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