I posted recently about the report finding phthalates, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and heavy metals, including, lead in vinyl or PVC shower curtains, and VOCs offgassing from the shower curtain after installation. The toxic content and emissions reported from vinyl shower curtains have been widely circulated on the blogosphere. If you haven’t read about it yet, check out report.
However, a recently released report from Environmental & Human Health, Inc., entitled Plastics that may be Harmful to Children and Reproductive Health reminded just how many products in our home can be made of vinyl. The report focuses on bisphenol A (BPA), found in polycarbonate plastic, and phthalates, found in vinyl products. But I’m going to focus on vinyl products right now, and other products in your home that may be made of vinyl.
A very brief summary of the issues with vinyl: Vinyl is considered the most toxic of the plastics, from manufacture to disposal. But, for purposes of this blog, I’m just focusing on the potential exposures to toxic chemicals from using vinyl products. Using vinyl products can expose you to phthalates, heavy metals such as lead or cadmium, and VOCs. Heavy metals are present as stabilizers in vinyl. They are not bound up in the polymer and can migrate to the surface where they can be picked up. Phthalates are added to vinyl to make it soft and flexible. Phthalates are also not bound up in the polymer, and can off gas or be picked up. Low dose exposures to phthalates have been linked to adverse health effects in laboratory animals, and researchers have reported associations between phthalate exposures and various reproductive type defects or problems in humans. Phthalate exposures have also been linked to increased risk of asthma.
And we are exposed to phthalates. Phthalates and their metabolites have been found in urine, saliva, and breast milk. And, our children appear to have the highest exposure. It has been reported that the highest intake of DEHP, one widely used phthalate, is children six months to four years old. The rate of uptake of DEHP by nursery school age children is two times that of adults.
A Smart Mama tries to eliminate vinyl as much as possible. Okay, so what are the come sources of vinyl in the home?
Soft plastic toys. The European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers has stated that almost all soft plastic toys are made with PVC, including dolls, bath ducks, inflatable toys, balls, and baby care items. Also, a lot of small figures are vinyl. For example, my son’s dinosaur figures were vinyl. I know it is hard to tell by looking. But, most soft, flexible plastic toys are PVC. Almost universally, soft bath toys are PVC. So what can a Smart Mama do? Try these substitutes: cloth dolls, vinyl free dolls (available on line), wood spoons for the bath, safer plastic cups and bowls for the bath (my kids LOVE a silicone turkey baster I bought at Target), etc. For teethers, try silicone, rubber, wood, cloth (put a little water on a corner and freeze for a soothing teether).
Rain guards for strollers. As far as I can tell, almost all on the market are vinyl.
Food packaging/storage. Always check to make sure it isn’t vinyl.
Waterproof coatings on mattress pads, changing pads, etc., are often vinyl. Other options are available, including polyethylene (a safer plastic, but still a plastic).
Lunch box liners and other portable soft food storage containers are often lined with vinyl. Check the fabric content on the label before you buy. If you have one, and need to continue to use it, make sure any food placed in it is wrapped up. If you are buying new, vinyl free options are available – just look.
Rain gear. Always skip any rain gear made of vinyl. The classic yellow rain jacket? Often vinyl.
Pleather or faux leather. Particularly in children’s garments, faux leather is often vinyl. Check the fabric label for “vinyl” or “PVC.”
Waterproof books. Usually coated with vinyl. Find something else, especially since these are often used as teethers.
Vinyl flooring. The flooring used in most of our homes is vinyl – and offgasses phthalates. If you are picking new flooring, choose a less toxic, more environmentally friendly flooring.
Keep in mind that phthalates are also found in personal care products. That’s right, your baby’s lotion, baby shampoo, and baby wash may all contain phthalates (among other toxic chemicals). For more information, read here. Phthalates usually are identified on the label – they are usually in the fragrance and need not be separately identified. If the product is not scented with essential oils, but has “fragrance” or “perfume”, it probably contains phthalates and you may want to skip it. Some phthalate free baby products are listed here. For what I think is an enlightening exploration of a favorite baby product’s label, read here.
Also keep in mind that phthalates find their way into a host of other products, including almost any product with fragrance. Think air fresheners, room sprays, scented dolls, scented clothes, laundry dryer sheets, etc.
Okay, a shameless plug – My consulting services include testing toys for lead, cadmium, etc. using an XRF analyzer. As part of that, I can test for chlorine, which will indicate that the toy is vinyl, and from that we can infer that phthalates are most likely present. I test toys at your home, school, day care or wherever, or I can test by mail!