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Environment

Risk From Phthalates

When evaluating phthalates, EPA should assess other chemicals with similar androgen-disrupting effects, report says

by Britt E. Erickson
December 22, 2008 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 86, ISSUE 51

EPA should consider exposure to all androgen-disrupting chemicals when assessing the risks of phthalates, a new report from the National Research Council recommends. Such an approach would be a huge shift for the agency, which traditionally evaluates the safety of individual chemicals rather than mixtures.

Phthalates are of concern because they are found in numerous consumer products, including cosmetics, children's toys, pharmaceuticals, cleaners, and food packaging, the report notes. Studies have shown that reproductive effects of phthalates occur in laboratory animals at lower concentrations than previously thought.

The report recommends that EPA include in its assessment of phthalates other chemicals that lead to the same biological effect, not just those that are structurally similar or have common mechanisms of action. "There are multiple ways of producing a specific effect like modification of androgen action," Deborah A. Cory-Slechta, chair of the NRC report committee and professor of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester, said at a briefing. "We need to think not just about phthalates but also about including other chemical agents that cause androgen changes," she emphasized.

Consumer groups welcomed the report. "Accounting for the combined effects of a group of chemicals that so often occur in consumer products is really important," says Carolyn Cairns, program leader at the nonprofit Consumers Union.

The American Chemistry Council, a trade group, called the report's recommendations "ambitious," emphasizing that a cumulative risk assessment "could result in a study without limits, financially or otherwise."

A similar approach could be applied to other groups of chemicals, such as lead, methylmercury, and PCBs, all of which contribute to the risk of lower IQ in children, the report notes.

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