Phthalates are chemical compounds that are primarily used as plasticizers. When used in this manner, they can provide hard or brittle plastics with more elastic and pliable properties. The chemical industry produces several million tons of phthalates each year, over 90% of which are used in the production of soft PVC. Phthalates are also used in the production of cables, films, flooring, tubes, wallpaper, as well as sporting goods and other leisure items. There is a distinction between internal and external plasticization, and the application determines which method is used. With internal plasticization, the phthalates are chemically bonded to the plastic, making it almost impossible for them to migrate out of the material. With external plasticization, on the other hand, the phthalates do not chemically bond with the plastic, but instead merely physically integrated into the plastic. Therefore, with external plasticization, the phthalates can be emitted from the product or transferred upon contact with other materials (primarily fats and oils). In contrast to volatile materials, such as solvents, which evaporate shortly after processing, ranging from a few hours to a few days, phthalates evaporate slowly and continuously during their usage. You can only assume that all plasticizers have been emitted after a product becomes porous.
Human absorption of phthalates mainly occurs through food consumption. There are many potential sources of phthalate contamination in food, for example, migration during production and processing (from tubes or containers), closures (twist off caps for glass containers), and plastic packaging. Furthermore, phthalates can also end up in food packaging materials, especially when recycled paper is involved, because they are used as additives in printing ink and dispersion adhesives.
Phthalates are suspected of being carcinogenic, toxic for the reproductive system, and having hormonal effects. In order to protect the health of consumers, maximum levels have been determined for various phthalates in consumer goods. Based on their toxicological classification, some phthalates are even completely prohibited in certain products such as toys, baby products, cosmetics, or food packaging. At the moment, there are no maximum levels defined for food products in the EU, however, guidelines values have been published by the German Federal Association for Natural Foods and Products (BNN) regarding phthalates in organic oils and fats. As a further measure to minimize plasticizer contamination, the BNN has reached an agreement with oil manufacturers to implement the good manufacturing practice of not using objects made of soft PVC in any step of the production process.
The GBA Group has years of experience analyzing phthalates. Using GC-MS/MS technology, we analyze a wide range of substances, including a total of 15 phthalates, in a variety of food products, as well as fats and oils. If you have any further questions, we will gladly be of assistance.