The Swedish Chemicals Agency has published a survey of phthalates in articles in Sweden comprising uses and available alternatives.
Phthalates are mainly used as plasticisers in PVC plastics, 93 percent of all phthalates were used for this purpose in Europe in 2012.
Phthalates are commonly used in cables, hoses and pipes, floors and wall coverings, medical equipment, packaging materials, sports equipment and synthetic leather. Cars contain many parts that consist of phthalates. Phthalates can also be found in coated textiles and clothing with print and in chemical products such as paint, sealants and adhesives.
The most hazardous ones have been replaced in Europe
The survey shows that on the European market the more hazardous, low-molecular-weight phthalates to a large extent have been replaced by less toxic, high-molecular-weight phthalates. On the rest of the world market, the low-molecular-weight phthalate DEHP still dominates, however.
Many Swedish companies have replaced DEHP with the phthalates DIDP, DINP or DPHP or completely different plasticisers that are not phthalates.
DEHP is listed on the EU candidate list of substances of very high concern and is banned in toys and childcare products. From 2015, a special permit is needed in order to use DEHP in the production of articles and chemical products in the EU. DEHP still occurs in many articles that we import from outside the EU and the permit process does not affect imported goods.
The present survey is part of the ongoing Swedish government assignment to the Swedish Chemicals Agency to push for a phase-out in Sweden of phthalates suspected of causing disturbing effects on reproduction and the endocrine system.
Facts about phthalates
Phthalic acid esters are made by reacting phthalic anhydride with an alcohol or a mixture of alcohols ranging from methanol (C1) to tridecyl (C13). Phthalic acid esters consist of a benzene dicarboxylic acid to which the two alcohols are coupled to form the di-ester. There are three isomeric forms of phthalic acid (ortho, meta and para) which can be used to produce three types of phtalic acid esters:
- ortho-phthalates - Phthalates - esters of 1,2-benzene dicarboxylic acid
- meta-phthalates - isophthalates - esters of 1,3-benzene dicarboxylic acid
- para-phthalates - terephthalates - esters of 1,4-benzene dicarboxylic acid
The only isomeric form compiled in this report is ortho-phthalates referred to as "phthalates".