I recently got struck by a lightning bolt of knowledge when I watched “Bag It,” a documentary by Jeb Berrier. I mean, I know plastic is not the best thing in the world, as most of us do. Yes, we should recycle, but do we? There was that whole discussion/uproar about BPA (Bisphenol A) in baby products a few years back. And yes, of course, we know plastic persists in the environment and that it’s bad for all kinds of animals, especially marine animals who end up consuming it. But for some reason, I’d never heard about phthalates.
Now phthalates, it turns out, are not just found in plastics. This is a class of chemicals that is used in all kinds of products. Parents should be concerned because “squishy” plastics can consist of more phthalate than the actual plastic…they could be BPA-free but still dense with phthalate that can be easily transferred to the human body, especially when it (as kids are known to do) is put in the mouth. In Jeb’s movie, a rubber ducky is equated to a “phthalate lollipop.”
Even if you avoid plastics containing phthalates, however, you are probably still exposed to them. They are commonly used in fragrances as a solubilizer and stabilizer. Any product with a fragrance may contain phthalates without disclosing them on the label because, as it turns out, fragrances are considered to be trade secrets, and this includes the chemicals used to create the fragrance (like ingredients that solubilize and stabilize). This is especially alarming for me since I am a perfume hound…I have 18 different kinds of perfume and 15 different kinds of body spray (I know! I have a problem!).
Additionally, here is a list of the other most common places you can find phthalates:
Coatings on pharmaceutical pills and nutritional supplements, adhesives and glues, electronics, agricultural applications, building materials, personal-care products, medical devices, detergents, packaging, toys, modelling clay, waxes, paints, printing inks, food, and fabrics.
Why, you may be asking, do we need to avoid these two chemicals, BPA and phthalate, specifically? They are both considered to be endocrine disruptors and can affect the body in numerous ways that can include birth defects, disruption of thyroid function, increased incidents of cancer, abnormal obesity, insulin resistance, asthma, potential links to attention deficit disorders and autism, and more. Anyone notice how there have been increased rates of obesity and autism?
It seems easier to avoid BPA…plastics labeled 1, 2, 5 and 6 are free of BPA (or should be). Don’t eat or drink anything out of other plastics. Ideally, you should drink out of glass/ceramics when you can, and try to avoid cooking anything in the microwave even in these plastics.
Phthalates, however, are everywhere. It’s easy to get paranoid about it. I have. I am trying to combat this sense of paranoia, though, by purging offensive items from my house, and replacing them with more natural and hopefully more organic items. I can’t really do anything about the paint on the walls and the floor coverings, except, I suppose to wear shoes in the house (wait, do my shoes have phthalates in them?).
As the days and weeks progress, I will be snitching on offensive products and offering up better products. It is an expensive undertaking, unfortunately to buy the better products, but if you do it bit by bit, you can start to make a dent.
Today’s cheap find: Bon Ami powder cleanser…to scrub the countertops and the bathtub/shower. Five ingredients! Limestone, feldspar, biodegradable cleaning agents (from coconut/corn – I suspect this is a powdered soap from the oil of these plants), soda ash, and baking soda. $1.69 at the fancy natural grocery store.
The most expensive thing I bought today: Pacifica brand body butter in Mediterranean Fig scent. It is free of animal products (this company does not test on animals either), parabens, phthalates, propylene glycol, mineral and peanut oils, and artificial color. This cost $16.99 at a different, fancier grocery store. If you go to Pacifica’s website, they clearly indicate that their skin care is free of these things, but they do NOT clearly indicate that their fragrances (perfume spray/solids) are phthalate free. Which seems a bit suspicious to me. I have e-mailed their customer service to find out the “word” regarding this suspicion, and I will dutifully report back with any response I receive. In the meantime, this fragrant lotion will be one of my “perfume replacers.”
The other e-mail I sent today was to Kuumba Made. These perfume oils are commonly found in the fancy grocery stores for not too much money (about $8) and they smell pretty (I especially like Egyptian Musk). They claim to be natural, but there is almost no information about ingredients. I have asked if there are phthalates in their products, so we shall see what they say.
In the future, I’ll probably also reveal other terrible chemicals we’d all be better off avoiding. And possibly I’ll start petitions and “writing” campaigns to get the mainstream manufacturers to start cutting the crap out of their products to make this place healthier for all. United we stand, people.
Finally, my Environmental Protection degree is coming in handy!