Phthalates and Cargo Cult Science

First it was breast implants, then thimerosal, and now it is phthalates.  Each have been attacked in turn by the junk-science / media / tort law complex.  Nobel Prize-winning chemist William Knowles wrote this week:

Lawmakers -- representing the concern of parents influenced by certain
environmentalists -- are calling for an outright ban of phthalates from
children's toys because of the misguided belief that by exposing
children to toys made with these chemicals we are putting their health
at risk.

Phthalates have a long history of attacks by environmental groups
dating back more than 30 years. Even then babies were of prime
consideration. Few chemicals have undergone such extensive testing and
survived as being safe. In fact, diisononyl phthalate, the most
commonly used phthalate in children's toys, has been subjected to more
than 200 tests....

Today, with no new scientific evidence, we are again challenging
phthalates as dangerous to babies and threatening to ban them. These
are products that have survived the toughest test of all, the test of
time. There is no evidence that babies or anyone else has ever been
harmed by them.

Eliminating phthalates from consumer products would be a true
challenge. Even more worrisome, however, is the notion that any
replacement would ever be able to pass the extreme scrutiny diisononyl
phthalate and other phthalates have.

There is nothing wrong with examining the products our children
come into contact with to be sure they pose no health risks. However,
in this case, it would be a great mistake to ban what has been proven
to be a benign product without some further scientific evidence.

  • Erik The Red

    You're quote seems to have an echo...

  • Erik The Red

    Also from the article, for people like me who thought "phthalates" was a made-up word whose purpose was to allow scientists to cover each other with spittle during conversations:

    Phthalates make plastics pliable and are used in the creation of automobile dashboards and floor mats. They are present in sneakers and rain boots and in rubber ducks and other children's toys. Today that is the crux of the issue that is forcing lawmakers and scientists to opposite sides of the equation.

  • Matt

    There is a thing that concerns me the most about the various safety witch-hunts that people are engaging in these days. It is the possibility that at some point, in a rush to get rid of the latest scape-goat chemical, some other chemical is going to be used that is actually worse for humans than the one it replaced. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if this has already happened at some point, and I'm just to young or uninformed to remember it.

  • Dr. T

    I'm a clinical pathologist who knows about toxicology (including a graduate course in environmental toxicology) and who has been in charge of a blood bank. The plastic bags used to collect and store blood products contain phthalates. Every person who has received red blood cells, platelets, plasma, or cryoglobulins for the past 40 years or more has been exposed to phthalates. The number of blood product recipients who have been harmed by phthalates over all those years is 0.

    By the way: Most of us drive vehicles that contain vinyls and plastics. If you've ever wiped away a hazy film from the windows after your vehicle sat outside on a hot day, then you've seen phthalates. The phthalates evaporate from the plastics and coat the windows. Therefore, each time you got into a hot vehicle, the air you breathed contained phthalates. Gee, shouldn't we all be dead by now?

    No reliable studies have shown that humans get ill after inhaling, ingesting, or intravenously injecting phthalates. The anti-phthalate crowd is just another group of modern day Luddites who hate technology and progress. They should move to the Amazon rain forest, avoid all the horrors of modern technology, and shortly thereafter die of diseases, starvation, or venomous bites.

  • epobirs

    Matt, this has indeed happened many times, especially the area of food panics. Also, consider the history of DDT.

  • Reformed Republican

    Knee-jerk reaction leading to a substance being replaced by one that is worse for humans? Perhaps the replacement of saturated fats with trans-fats (if you believe the trans-fats are as dangerous as stated).