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 effect 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 was seen by many 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 will therefore continue to pose a threat to 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, on the basis that companies involved had not adequately demonstrated that socio-economic benefits of authorisation would outweigh the risks, including male infertility.

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

Lynn Ladbrook, CEO of Breast Cancer UK said “This is a hugely disappointing and very surprising decision on the part of the EU and 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 ie the protection of human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals.”

The same EU committee is currently considering listing DEHP and three other phthalates, DBP, BBP and DIBP, as substances 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 urge the committee to vote in favour of listing the four phthalates as SVHCs, as 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 which would need to be taken into consideration, and it would mean a ban on all imported products containing DEHP 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.

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.

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