What are Phthalates?
Plastics permeate just about every facet of life for us now. Plastic is cheap and useful. It also creates dioxin when burned (= highly toxic, causing reproductive, developmental and immune system problems in addition to cancer), never breaks down and use huge amounts of natural resources.
Unfortunately, plastics have invaded our bodies too. Plasticizers are chemicals added to plastic for flexibility and durability. The main type of plasticizer is a group of chemicals called phthalates (pronounced “THA-lates”). In addition to being found in your mascara, nail polish and perfume, phthalates are mainly found in a plastic know as polyvinyl chloride or “PVC.” PVC is used in a myriad of products including baby toys, teething rings (!), food packaging and storage containers (those with the “Number 3” recycling designation). The chemicals can come off in your baby’s mouth or in the food stored in the container.
Why are they bad?
Phthalates are toxic chemicals classified by the US EPA as probable carcinogens. A carcinogen, of course, is something that by definition causes cancer. Recent studies have also shown that phthalates also have a hormone-disrupting effect. In both males (including in utero and newborns), they combat male hormones stunting the release of testosterone and the development of male characteristics, affecting things like penis size and the descension of testicles. (See What’s Toxic, What’s Not in References). In females, high phthalate levels have been linked to premature breast development. (See Super Natural Home in References).
What can I do about PVC in Baby Products?
The main source of PVC exposure to infants is likely teething rings, soft “vinyl” toys and crib mattresses. Look for toys that are labeled “PVC-free” or look for wood toys with non-toxic coloring. I’ve included a number of safe options in the Registry section. For teethers, I like Life Factory, Dandelion and the ubiquitous Sophie the Giraffe.
The Wooden Wagon has cute wooden baby toys that are finished with nontoxic colors.
One of the toughest categories for me to find safe products in was “activities.” After emailing a few manufacturers, including the popular and highly recommended Tiny Love regarding their playmats, bouncers and gymini, Tiny Love was the only one that gave me comfort. The company confirmed via email to me on 8/16/2011 that:
“Our products meet all of the current regulations set forth by the CPSC, US and EU governments. Our products are free of BPA, PVC and Ph[th]alates. We also adhere to the new lead limit of 90ppm. Because our business is children we’ve made sure that our testing standards are higher than even the new California laws require, which are the strictest in the world. I hope this alleviates any concerns you may have.”
Fisher Price (a division of Mattel), for the record, never responded and doesn’t list materials. I expect more from the maker of Barbie. I’ve included some favorite Tiny Love products (mobile, gymini, tummy time mat) in the Registry section.
For crib mattresses, I highly recommend spending the money for a 100% organic one like Naturepedic or the Serena and Lily organic crib mattress. These are not only free from phthalates but also chemical fire retardants frequently used, such as formaldehyde.
If you already own a crib mattress and can’t afford to replace it, try this Serendipity Crib Mattress Protector, designed to prevent the off-gassing of toxic gasses from mattresse, which has been linked to the origin of SIDS, Autism, Asthma and allergies.
More on PVC and safe alternatives in cosmetics and food storage coming soon!