Previous studies have examined the reported effects of phthalates on male hormones and reproductive consequences, but a new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives indicates that some phthalates may be linked to higher rates of diabetes in women.1   Given the continued scrutiny on phthalates, it is essential that companies whose products contain them stay at the forefront of the legal and regulatory discussion.

What Are Phthalates?

Ubiquitous in today's society, phthalates comprise a group of chemicals typically used as softeners for plastic products (plasticizers) or as solvents in food packaging, cosmetics, perfumes, nail polishes, flooring, and other industrial and consumer products.  Some countries have already put regulations in place, with more on the way to restrict use or require removal of phthalates from consumer products such as children's toys and personal care products.  In the United States, federal and state regulations limit and/or prohibit the use of phthalates under certain circumstances, and additional restrictions are under consideration.

Study Results

The new study evaluated possible effects of the following phthalates:

  • Dibutyl phthalates (DBP), used in adhesives and lacquer finishes
  • Benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), used in vinyl flooring, caulks, and sealants
  • Di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), used in vinyl products, including intravenous (IV) bags and tubing
  • Diethyl phthalate (DEP), used in personal care products

According to the study, DBP and BBP were reported to be linked to double the rate of diabetes in women with the highest levels of phthalate markers in their urine.  DBP and DEHP were reported to be linked to higher blood glucose levels and insulin resistance, two common precursors of type 2 diabetes.  No relationship was found, however, between DEP and diabetes.  The study authors do not make a finding of causation and state that more studies are needed to determine whether phthalate exposure can alter glucose metabolism and increase the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes.

Companies Should Prepare

Keeping a close watch on legislative and regulatory developments, as well as the evolving science involved, is essential.