How and why measure phthalates in indoor air?

05/28/2019


Where are the plasticizers to be found?

Plasticisers are added to plastics to improve their mechanical properties (hardness, flexibility, etc.) and the main plasticisers are phthalates, which can represent up to 50% by weight of the plastic.

About 6 million tonnes of phthalates are produced worldwide each year and are therefore widely present in our daily environment.

Plastic polymers degrade over time (light radiation, temperature, abrasion, etc.) and as plasticisers are not directly linked to the polymer structure they are emitted into the indoor environment.

Phthalates are semi-volatile organic compounds that accumulate on household dust particles.

The most commonly used phthalate is di-ethyl-hexyl phthalate (DEHP / CAS 117-81-7) and is very frequently found in significant quantities in indoor air in homes and offices.

Phthalates are among the main pollutants in the indoor environment and in particular in homes, schools and workplaces where plasticised products and PVC floor coverings have become the most prevalent.


Even after a vinyl floor has been removed, it takes two years for the DEHP level in indoor air to drop below 0.01 µg/m3.

Phthalates are therefore particularly persistent in the indoor environment and the presence of carpet that will accumulate and store dust will double the duration of the presence of plasticisers in the indoor air.


What are the health effects of phthalates?

For the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), phthalates are classified as toxic to reproduction.  DEHP is classified as a SVHC (Substance of Very High Concern) substance because of its toxic effects on reproduction and its endocrine disruption.

Phthalates are suspected to cause testicular problems in men such as the absence of a testicle (cryptorchydy), malformation of the urethra (hypospadias) or testicular cancer.

Even short-term exposure to phthalates can cause asthma, rhinitis, eczema and affects people allergic to dust mites.

Higher than average concentrations of phthalates have been measured in the homes of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These results suggest a link between phthalate exposure and autism and highlight that these compounds can interfere with the development of the central nervous system.

Because of their endocrine disrupting properties, they have effects on the body at low doses of exposure. It is therefore very important to assess their presence in indoor air, especially if the occupants have fertility problems or if a pregnant woman or young children are occupying the premises.

For women, they are suspected of causing early puberty, ovarian failure, polycystic ovarian syndromes, uterine fibroids.


How do you know if you are breathing phthalate-contaminated indoor air?

Phthalates are present in household dust and three main methods can be used to assess indoor air pollution by these toxic chemicals:

- An air sampling with a pump and a filter. It is an effective method but often too expensive for a private individual because it requires the use of specific equipment and the travel of a professional to be implemented.

- A surface sample with wipes. Although very economical, this sampling technique has a major disadvantage because it is not possible to link a concentration of pollutant on a surface to a concentration present in the air and thus to properly assess contamination.

- Dust sampling with a household vacuum cleaner followed by laboratory testing is the most accurate and economical solution. The concentrations measured in dust used to perform a plasticizer test determine the exposure level of a part with an appropriate level of accuracy.

 


Plasticizers Pollution Test

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