Recent actions taken by retailer Walmart may have sounded the death knell for phthalates, especially with respect to personal care products. Phthalates are a group of chemicals that are typically used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastics and vinyl. In chemical mixtures, phthalates can also carry other chemicals and are often found in fragrances and other consumer products. Certain categories of phthalates have been found to have caused adverse reproductive effects on laboratory animals, albeit at concentrations many orders of magnitude higher than typically found in consumer products. Phthalates are already subject to extensive regulation in both the United States and the European Union. For example, phthalates are on the list of California Proposition 65 chemicals that require warnings if sold in California and are subject to use prohibitions under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act in children's toys and certain child care articles.
In September 2013, Walmart released its Policy on Sustainable Chemistry in Consumables which will require disclosure of ingredients contained in household cleaning, personal care, beauty and cosmetic products by January 2015. Walmart also identified a list of ten "high priority chemicals" which it targeted for continuous reduction, restriction and elimination. Although Walmart did not identify which specific chemicals are on its list, Procter & Gamble's and Johnson & Johnson's recent announcements that they would be eliminating phthalates from their beauty and personal care product lines would seem to suggest that phthalates made Walmart's list.
Like BPA several years ago, phthalates are one of several groups of chemicals that have been recently targeted by various consumer activists groups. These groups have been very successful in convincing major retailers to stop selling and consumers to stop buying products containing certain chemicals such as BPA and phthalates. In light of these efforts, it is likely that even in the absence of action by U.S. EPA and other regulatory entities, phthalates and other similarly situated chemicals will be phased out of personal care products in the near future.