In early 2009, a panel of experts suggested that the Environmental Protection Agency alter the way it evaluates the potential health risks linked to a family of chemicals called phthalates, a National Research Council indicates. Even today, phthalates are a harmful chemical seen in a variety of consumer products, such as cosmetics, toys, vinyl products, pacifiers, building materials, cleaners, fragrances, and personal-care products– or essentially everything with an artificial scent.
Following the EPA’s request, the NRC panel examined research and decided that, because people—including unborn children—are frequently exposed to plenty of phthalates and other hormone-disrupting chemicals on a regular basis, the EPA should begin to asses risk of overall exposure to each of these substances. The best approach for this would be to assess combined exposure to different substances that lead to similar health dangers; for example, methylmercury, lead, and PCBs would be grouped together because they each contribute to decreased IQ in young children.
Despite a study that linked phthalates found in hairspray to birth defects in baby boys, there wasn’t much evidence on what the chemical could do to other humans. But animal studies indicated that certain phthalates decrease testosterone levels, disrupt male reproductive development and fertility, and cause undescended testes.
The American Chemistry Council, which represented the companies making these synthetic substances, declared an EPA risk assessment would be unnecessary, because Congress had already asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission to perform one. But CPSC was then sued by the National Resources Defense Council and criticized by Congress members for permitting mass production and store stockpiling of toys carrying phthalates that would be banned within a month.
While the EPA didn’t need to adopt these specific recommendations, they brought increased attention to the risks of these dangerous, hormone-disrupting phthalates, helping to push the government to begin recognizing the chemical body burden, which implies the things occurring inside our bodies when we’re exposed to various chemicals.
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