21 April, 2016

The EU voted last night in favour of a measure which would allow the continued use of the banned toxic chemical DEHP (bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate) in recycled plastics.

Until recently, DEHP was widely used as a plasticiser in PVC plastics, such as footwear, building materials and floor coverings. However, following concerns that this common environmental contaminant can adversely affect male fertility, it was classified as a reproductive toxicant and listed as an endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC). In February 2015, DEHP was banned from general use under EU law in what many saw as a positive move for health and the environment.

However, the European Union’s Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) committee agreed yesterday to grant authorisation of plastics containing DEHP in consumer articles made with recycled PVC. This means that DEHP will continue to be used in consumer products and therefore continue to threaten the environment and human health.

The EU’s decision goes against a non-binding resolution by MEPs last November, which called on the European Commission not to approve the applications for authorisation. Companies involved had not adequately demonstrated that the socio-economic benefits of authorisation would outweigh the risks, including male infertility.

DEHP is widespread in the environment and is detected regularly in human body fluids. It has been linked to various health problems, including male infertility and breast cancer (1). Low concentrations of DEHP are oestrogenic. They have been found to increase breast cancer cell proliferation in tissue culture studies (e.g. 2). Allowing continued use of DEHP will contribute further to environmental exposures and potential health risks.

Lynn Ladbrook, CEO of Breast Cancer UK, said, “This is a hugely disappointing and very surprising decision on the part of the EU. One that sadly puts profit before people. We’re particularly concerned that this decision appears to set a dangerous precedent and seriously undermines the spirit and purpose of the EU’s Chemicals Regulation, i.e., protecting human health and the environment from the risks posed by chemicals.”

The same EU committee is considering listing DEHP and three other phthalates, DBP, BBP and DIBP. These substances are of very high concern (SVHCs) due to their endocrine disrupting properties and consequent implications for human health. All four phthalates are reproductive toxicants.

Breast Cancer UK strongly urges the committee to vote to list the four phthalates as SVHCs. This would lead to different risk management considerations in the REACH authorisation and restriction processes. The identification is important because, as EDCs for human health, any level of exposure would constitute a risk that would need to be considered. It would mean banning all imported DEHP products and the three other phthalates.

See Breast Cancer UK’s letter to EU REACH committee objecting to authorisation

1. López‐Carrillo L. et al. (2010). Exposure to phthalates and breast cancer risk in northern Mexico. Environmental Health Perspectives 118: 539‐544. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20368132

2. Chen, F.P. and Chien, M.H. (2014). Lower concentrations of phthalates induce proliferation in human breast cancer cells. Climacteric 17(4): 377‐384. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24228746

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