Other Problem Plastics: Bisphenol A Isn't the Only Concern

Should we worry about plastics that aren't polycarbonate? The phthalates debate.

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Bisphenol A, a major ingredient in polycarbonate plastic that's also used to preserve canned foods, is getting lots of bad publicity this week. But polycarbonate isn't the only kind of plastic that has health experts concerned; plasticizers called phthalates make some of them nervous, too.

Some scientists and parents have been worried for years about these chemicals (pronounced THAL-ates), which make certain plastics like vinyl pliable and are also used as solvents in cosmetic products. Groups like Greenpeace have been calling for bans of vinyl pacifiers and toys for at least a decade. (And here I thought toxic toys were the recent problem!)

The case against phthalates is hardly incontrovertible, as the American Chemistry Council, an industry group, has repeatedly emphasized on the site phthalates.org. Nevertheless, study after recent study has produced disconcerting evidence that these chemicals, which act like the hormone estrogen once inside the body, may alter childhood development and perhaps raise the risk of cancer, diabetes, obesity, and other ills.

No wonder Congress has been working on legislation to ban phthalates from children's products.