Good News: EU identifies four phthalates as endocrine disrupting chemicals for humans | Breast Cancer UK

Good News: EU identifies four phthalates as endocrine disrupting chemicals for humans

Published 21 Feb 2017

For the first time, chemicals have been identified as substances of very high concern (SVHC) due to their endocrine disrupting properties (EDCs) in humans. The four phthalates, which include DEHP, DBP, DIBP and BBP, are already classified as SVHCs because of their effects on male fertility but this latest decision marks a key turning point in EU chemicals regulation, because this is the first time any chemical has been recognised as an SVHC due to its EDC properties affecting human health. This is a decision that we, along with other NGOs, have campaigned for.

Until recently, these phthalates were used as plasticisers in PVC plastics, such as footwear, footballs, building materials and vinyl floor coverings. In February 2015, they were banned from general use under EU law

These chemicals have been classified as EDCs due to their anti-androgenic and oestrogenic properties, which means they may be associated with increased breast cancer risk (1). There is some evidence that occupational exposure to phthalates increases such risk (2). Phthalates are widespread in the environment and detected regularly in human body fluids (3). Recent in vitro studies show that at very low concentration, BBP, DBP, and DEHP show oestrogenic activity, increase breast cell proliferation and prevent cell death (4), suggesting low environmental concentrations of these phthalates may increase breast cancer risk. Furthermore, BBP has also been shown in vitro to reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy (5).

Breast Cancer UK welcomes this recent move, and now urges the Commission to reconsider it’s 2016 decision to allow the use of DEHP in recycled plastics. We also look forward to more chemicals being listed as SVHCs due to their hormone disrupting properties.  

Lynn Ladbrook, CEO of Breast Cancer UK said “Over recent years, the EU has made slow but steady progress in improving chemicals regulations, and this latest decision represents an important turning point in using chemicals regulation to help protect human health.”

Breast Cancer UK is also campaigning to ensure that such progress is not thwarted by the UK’s plans to leave the EU. It is possible for the UK to leave the EU, and the single market, and still benefit from the protection of EU chemicals regulations. We’re working to ensure that Brexit doesn’t weaken chemicals regulation or threaten public health.


1. Chen, F.-P. et al (2016). Impact of low concentrations of phthalates on the effects of 17b-estradiol in MCF-7 breast cancer cells. Taiwanese Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology 55:826-834.

2. Brophy J.T. et al. (2012). Breast cancer risk in relation to occupations with exposure to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors: a Canadian case-control study. Environmental Health 11(87): 1–17.

3. Dobrzyńska, M. M. (2016). Phthalates - widespread occurrence and the effect on male gametes. Part 1. General characteristics, sources and human exposure. Annals of the National Institute of Hygiene 67(2): 97-103.

4. Chen, F.-P. et al. (2016). op cit

5. Hsu, Y.-L. et al. (2015). Benzyl butyl phthalate increases the chemoresistance to doxorubicin/cyclophosphamide by increasing breast cancer-associated dendritic cell-derived CXCL1/GROα and S100A8/A9. Oncology Reports 34(6):

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