Home » Plastic and phthalates, are they dangerous for children?

Plastic and phthalates, are they dangerous for children?

Plast, ftalater och mjukplast är inte farligt för barn

Fakta och råd om plast och ftalater för barn. Av professor Agnes Wold  för barnakuten.nu. Plast är ett praktiskt material som finns i många barnleksaker. Det kommer ständigt larmrapporter om att plast i allmänhet, och mjukplast med mjukgöraren ftalater i synnerhet, skulle vara farligt för barn. Vi går igenom forskningen bakom detta.

Mjukgöraren ftalater

Ftalater är mjukgörare som finns i PVC-plast. Vi får i oss dem framför allt via maten (som kommit i kontakt med olika plaster). En annan stor källa till ftalatexponering är genom direkt kontakt med plastmaterial, till exempel inom sjukvården. Kroppen bryter ned och utsöndrar ftalater från kroppen relativt snabbt. De har i försök på råttor inverkat negativt på manlig reproduktionsförmåga. Man har inte kunnat bevisa några negativa effekter av ftalateri studier på människor. Bröstmjölkens nivå av ftalater visade inte något samband med risken för att pojkens testiklar inte vandrar ner i pungen.

Read the scientific article on phthalates in breast milk and testicles that do not migrate into the scrotum here. 

Phthalates and impaired fertility

I en svensk studie har man undersökt om män som jobbar i plastindustri och blivit exponerade för ftalater har nedsatt fertilitet. Man undersökte 227 heterosexuella par. Inget samband kunde ses mellan mannens exponering för kemikalien i arbetet och hur lång tid det tog innan kvinnan blev gravid.

Read the scientific article on phthalates at work and fertility here. 

Phthalates in newborn care

Eftersom barn kan få i sig ftalater genom att gnaga på plastleksaker, har EU förbjudit användning av sådana mjukgörare i barnleksaker och produkter för vård av barn. I USA är de fortfarande tillåtna. De barn som idag riskerar att få i sig höga nivåer ftalater är främst barn som ligger mycket på sjukhus med plastslangar, till exempel de som får dialys. En liten studie har dock inte funnit några negativa hälsoeffekter hos sådana barn.

Read the scientific article on the follow-up of children exposed to phthalates as newborn here. 

Det är dock verkligt svår forskning att göra eftersom barn som ligger på sjukhus med många plastslangar har stor risk för att få långtidskomplikationer av sin sjukdom. De kanske gör det på grund av dialys eller blodförgiftning, eller för att de är för tidigt födda. För att göra sådana studier bra skulle man behöva lotta barn på intensivvårdsavdelningar till olika typer av slangar och följa upp dem i vuxenlivet. Så fort man tror sig veta att den ena slangen är bättre eller sämre blir det oetiskt att göra en lottning.

Is there a cocktail effect?

Till “cocktaileffekten”. Visst kan fem kemikalier ge en sammanlagd effekt som är större än summan av effekterna, men den kan också bli mindre. Exempelvis om en kemikalie påskyndar nedbrytningen av en annan. Det är väl känt vad gäller läkemedel. Att testa just en kombination av de kemikalier man tror samverkar är enkelt. Man ger bara denna “cocktail” till råttor eller möss, i stället för enskilda kemikalier. Och ingen cocktaileffekt är påvisad i några studier.

Behöver jag plastsanera i barnrummet?

Givetvis inte. Eftersom det inte finns några vetenskapliga belägg för att plast skulle vara giftigt för barn finns det ingen anledning att ägna tid åt plastsanering. Gör något roligare i stället.

/ Agnes Wold

27 thoughts on “Plast och ftalater, är det farligt för barn?”

  1. Alexandra Björklund

    Have read your book, love it, so lovely with a little nuance in the debate.
    A question that I see someone else also asked without answer, we are considering importing a stroller from England, a Bugaboo Donkey man would save about 4000 SEK. But when you google it all, people warn that in England they do not have the same requirements for flame retardants, but if you buy from them you risk higher levels than in Sweden.

    However, no good updated facts can be found if this is still true. The blogs are quite old. It seems to be furniture but I have a hard time believing that a stroller would be perceived as furniture in the UK? Do you have any tips on this or who to ask?

    1. Hey!

      I have no exact control, but it would amaze me greatly if Bugaboo has any own line for wagons exported to Sweden, which is still a very small market. So I would think it is the same cart no matter where you buy. The person who can answer the best will probably be someone in the company's information department.

      Thanks for nice words about the book!


  2. Hey!

    This thing with dust is one thing.
    But what do you think of phthalates in older strollers?
    I'm really craving a stroller with gallon upholstery from the 70's or 80's.

    But became doubtful when the Nature Conservation Association on its website advised a person who has just such a cart from using it because of the phthalates.

    How much phthalates are actually left in a wagon after 30 - 40 years?

    The thing is that my children lick and bite on the edges of the stroller, had it not been for this I probably would not have been as worried.

    "Is it enough" to dress for a wagon that has gallon upholstery or do the children get large amounts of phthalates anyway if they lick, bite and suck on the wagon?

    1. Hey! I don't think the Society for Nature Conservation has so much science on its feet to warn of older gallon wagons. It is resource-efficient and good for the environment with recycling!

  3. Bertil Hagström

    Chemical Inspection Report 7/2014 made on government assignments is quite good regarding phthalates
    One writes in 7.3.1 and one points out a connection between pvc floors and the amount of phthalates in dust in the indoor environment and that it is an important route of exposure for phthalates for children.
    Read the full report on 150 pages, it is interesting, although the measures you propose may not be the sharpest, but certainly backed up in part by the EU regulations. Blogging since…

  4. Hey!
    Thanks for the nuance of the debate, always good with open and factual discussion.

    I have another concern about dust: that it seeps down into the baby's lungs and mechanically causes inflammation that can interfere with the development of the lungs. Would like nothing more than to be proven wrong in this. Is this something we know about?

    1. Hey! You don't have to worry about that. Stone dust lung in stone miners and asbestos in construction workers is due to inhaled stone dust or asbestos dust causing inflammation. But ordinary household dust does not have the potential for harm.

  5. Hey! I wonder if England has exceptions to these EU rules? Quite often do I read warnings about buying children's products from England, as these should contain flame retardants, or is this an internet myth? For example, some strollers sold in Sweden are half as expensive or even cheaper in England. Same brand, same model, but companies in Sweden warn to buy from them due to flame retardants.

  6. Another thing that is often "warned" about is plastic printing on clothes. So they contain toxins. What are your thoughts on this?

  7. So good! When I lived in the United States, I probably thought their hysteria about cleanliness was a little good .. Don't play with sticks and stones, disinfect your hands after you've been out playing. All the cleaning stuff contained antibacterial agents .. And then the family I lived with was still very dimmed compared to others! We also did not have detergent that was disinfectant a bend, but which was then removed because it became too clean, maybe I do not remember.

  8. How did you now think Karolinska Institutet?

    I have been impressed with this blog. It fills a void that previously existed for the target group of young children. I have appreciated the tone of the posts which have been factual and humble, and the criticism constructive. E.g. posts about baby food and breastfeeding, as well as vaccinations. That is why I am so surprised and disappointed at the recent chemical posts. When I read today's post that "The Nature Conservation Society cynically exploits the natural anxiety of toddler parents" I felt that now the picture is starting to get a little well-balanced.

    It is no news that, through the press or so-called sensational media at regular intervals, there are warnings or scare propaganda about all kinds of things that affect our health. Industries are evolving, new chemicals are being developed (in the lab with the goal of improving our everyday lives, out in the market the most commercially viable, not necessarily the best). Then there will also be alarm reports. Some reports begin to circulate, perhaps distorted on parental forums, and naturally create anxiety and anxiety.

    Very few are familiar with the research regarding our ever-increasing exposure to increasingly new and advanced chemicals. No one is an expert. Scientists disagree. We know too little. Much more research is needed, studies that are designed in many different ways and above all time, maybe generations of time. To be able to say with certainty that "this is how it is".

    The research we have right now has institutions such as the Karolinska Institutet, the Swedish Chemicals Inspectorate and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, with their thousands of researchers and experts in the subject, tried to compile. And based on it published some recommendations. Not to increase the anxiety of toddler parents, but to reduce the powerlessness and give tips to those who want to know what you as a private person can do in concrete terms. There is probably not a hidden agenda to make us clean anymore.

    The post entitled "How did you now think the Chemical Inspectorate?" Might as well have been called "How did you now think the Karolinska Institutet?" Because on their website under the current research tab and the title "you reduce the chemical pressure at home" lists the same things, including the wet drying that Dr. Cecilia and Professor Vold are critical of. ("Many chemicals get stuck in dust. Keep clean where children stay and wet dry often.") http://ki.se/ki/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=45520&a=164068&l=sv

    I do not know if I have missed anything, but at least I have not perceived the Nature Conservation Association to advocate more for cleaning than for anything else. In your blog, in several posts, you have focused only on one of many different recommendations, specifically the dust and the cleaning, as if it were the main message of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. How is it that? Cleaning is a loaded topic, and just as we have come from that yoke, new recommendations will come that we should clean. Sure it's sour. *

    I understand and appreciate that this blog in a scientific way wants to come up with facts and alleviate the anxiety of toddler parents where possible, especially if it is completely unjustified. Therefore, it is unfortunate that the latest posts on chemicals have been nuanced and also wrongly angled. The first post was written without Dr. Cecilia being read on the topic at all. To reflect, of course, you have the right to in your own blog. But if one has the ambition to have a scientifically based blog, it should, as someone commented, appear when something is purely thought out. Otherwise, there is a risk that you will not differ so much from the forums that you criticize. **

    Then came a post about dust and cleaning by Professor Vold who correctly stated that dust does not contain bacteria and allergens. Absolutely standalone a good post, ie if you cleaned because you were afraid of bacteria or to avoid allergies. Then, that is, only after you have published posts on the subject, where you have already decided where you stand, and after a lot of reactions, Dr Cecilia / Professor Vold reads a little and continues in the same spirit. That is, the Nature Conservation Society reduces to a cynical anxiety-creating organization that, instead of frightening toddler parents, should devote itself to saving forests. ***

    It's a shame to undermine the Nature Conservation Association as they do a job that benefits us all. In addition to their work with eagles, wolves, forests and fish, they also have a chemistry department with hundreds of disputed scientists in the back whose daily work is to monitor the research in question in addition to the actual research worldwide. Therefore, they can act as counterpoints to industry lobbyists with pressure and influence on environmental and EU politicians. All of these laws we in Sweden and the EU have, as you speak so warmly, have not been created automatically and are the result of pressure and intense work by precisely the organizations you mock.

    Chemicals are an issue that affects and affects many toddler parents, a group with great power in the market. Unfortunately, as we are all painfully aware, it is money that governs. By making conscious choices and being critical and demanding consumers, we may be able to influence faster than other more bureaucratic processes. The market is adapting to demand and fortunately, there is also a more environmentally friendly supply in the trade. That this works can be seen after the first big alarm reports came out about Bisphenol A in baby bottles. Because consumers reacted and began to rate baby bottles in favor of glass bottles, many manufacturers removed this substance (and marketed themselves as well) before the actual change in law came in 2011 that bans the substance in all baby bottles (http://www.regeringen.se/sb/d/13715/a/156659 ).
    Unlike our Swedish politicians, Canadians thought that research was convincing two years earlier when they banned the same substance in their baby bottles (http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=406&artikel=2392162 ). To lean on current legislation regarding a subject's dangerousness may seem arbitrary when a single subject is valued so differently depending on where you happen to be resident.

    I think it is irresponsible to write so un-balanced and one-sided about this difficult and important topic. The ambition is good, but if you are to invite a professor as a guest writer, it would be logical for someone who is an expert in the field to be disserted instead of someone (admittedly a professor) who reads for two days but who speaks more confidently than those who have devoted a whole life to research the subject.

    1. Now I don't understand what you mean. There are no thousands of researchers at the Swedish Chemicals Inspectorate and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. The Swedish Chemicals Inspectorate is an authority that keeps track of chemicals legislation. The Nature Conservation Association is an interest organization for those who want to protect nature. At the Karolinska Institute there are certainly a thousand researchers, but most do not do research on the biological effects of environmental toxins. I think KI has an excellent site, just about these chemicals, which I used when looking for information on the subject.

      Now I am a chemist, biologist and physician and have been doing research for 30 years. I have even worked (for eternity ago, admittedly) in environmental medicine. So I probably think I can read the articles written about health effects, for example in animal studies, and assess the relevance of these. It is quite easy to find that most animal experiments are carried out at significantly higher concentrations than those which, for example, are found in our household dust. There is nothing that I have found, but is in every overview of the subject, if you read on.

      I think I have repeatedly pointed out how good it is for the EU to ban chemicals that can have harmful health effects, and of course it is excellent to be on the safe side and rather trap than free. Of course, it is excellent that angry consumers use their power, and that they also work politically, to limit the spread of potentially dangerous chemicals. Perhaps mainly for their impact on other animal species than ourselves.

      What I find very problematic is when an organization such as SNF, which I thought would protect nature, spreads fear of ordinary household dust. And if the Swedish Chemicals Agency calls for cleaning (which I didn't know they did), then I think they should end it. They have just as little on their feet, as the National Board of Social Affairs had at the time they called for cleaning to "reduce the spread of infection and allergies".

  9. I love your blog, factual, straightforward and with valuable topics for a toddler parent with two children under two years!

    I wonder if you might / could have written about children's TV viewing? Google is a dangerous place on this subject as it is difficult for “ordinary” people to screen what is evidence-based research and what is “hitherto” .. Thanks for a brilliant blog in the jungle!

    1. Thanks for the nice words! We have not written about television viewing, the closest is this: and the basic thoughts there apply to me also for television viewing. That is: the danger is when the television viewer pushes out everything the child needs to do to feel good and develop. But it is definitely a good look for the future. After all, there are some studies on television viewing and various types of ill-health.

    2. I do not see the link 🙁 maybe can write it again?
      You are absolutely right, you have to go for "common sense"! 🙂

  10. @ Agnes: Interesting post! But when it comes to phthalates it is quite important what kind of phthalate it is or how? Some phthalates have been found to be harmful at least in animal experiments. These have been phased out by serious plastic floor manufacturers as plasticizers and instead replaced by the kind of phthalate that could not be shown to have any adverse effects in animal experiments but which the EU still wants to prohibit in chewing toys in accordance with the precautionary principle. to make sure to choose floors with the most harmless phthalates or any of the phthalate-free ones that start coming if they are worried about phthalates in the home environment?

    If phthalates are excreted from blue plastic floors and become trapped in dust and this level can be reduced by watering a little more often on new floors, * shouldn't consumers be given that information even if you are happy to point out that you do not fall dead if you do not leave?

    When it comes to allergies, as a layman, I have been taught that there is a difference between "clean dirt" and "dirty dirt". Indoor dust, road dust from busy roads, etc. are “dirty dirt” that does not add anything positive to bouncing around for toddlers. On the other hand, digging in and tasting on clean soil, sticks, cones, goat camo, clap animal fur, etc. in a rural environment is good for preventing allergies. Am I thinking right there or have there been other findings? Was a little confused when I visited a 4H farm with children where they put up big warning signs with the urge to wash their hands after patting the animals. Is the problem of zoonoses really so great that it justifies preschoolers standing in line to wash their hands as soon as someone accidentally pats the cat / rabbit / sheep?

    When it comes to harmful substances in breast milk, I understand that it is possible to test but that in normal cases with full-fledged children do not do so when it is deemed unnecessary is it right? There is another example where the person planning a long breastfeeding period might benefit from knowing how to apply environmental toxins in order to make a conscious decision. As I understand, are there any serious bodies that make tests even for those who are willing to pay for themselves?

    * This is stated by the Swedish Chemicals Agency on direct question.

    1. Oh yeah, clean and dirty dirt! It was an interesting new dimension to life! There are two interesting books to read on the topic "our relationship with dirt". One is a classic by anthropologist Mary Douglas: "Purity and Danger" from 1966. She has brilliantly mapped out what we perceive as "dirt" by exploring a variety of cultures around the world. Dirt is when things are in the wrong place. If a pair of shoes is on a floor, they are not dirty, but if they stand on a table they become dirty. If a sandwich is on the kitchen table, it is not dirty, but if it is in bed it becomes dirty. All cultures, according to Mary Douglas, are obsessed with defining what is clean and dirty. So also our culture, I would say. As a microbiologist, I can add that this filth has almost never had to do with the content of microorganisms. We think, for example, that we get clean by showering, but in fact we get thousands of times more bacteria on the skin several hours after a shower (bacteria can't grow if it's dry, but if you soak up and grate on the skin so that there will be little damage, so they enjoy it!). Similarly, a bearded person has far fewer bacteria than a smooth-shaven person. And so on, and so on….

      The other interesting book is "The State of Things" by sociologist Boel Berner. It is about when cleaning came into fashion around the turn of the last century. You were then (for the first time) obsessed with dust. This was because it became modern with housewives for the first time in history, ie in the better mediated strata, the working women and the peasant women worked evenly, of course. Since there were servicemen who took care of the household, the question arose as to what the housewife would spend the days. Then the great war against the pond was invented! Since this was about the same time that bacteriology emerged and at the same time as the infectious diseases were affecting many victims of all ages and social classes, they managed to imagine that if you just got rid of the dust, you would get rid of the infections. I think this is very interesting, because the dust is largely sterile (because it is dry, so bacteria cannot grow there).

      Now, I think we seem to be living in a similar time, but we are instead projecting other dangers on the poor dust (which, of course, is completely innocent in the context, just as it was for the infections spread between humans and through contaminated water and milk full of tuberculosis).

      I think the Swedish Chemicals Agency should stop giving advice on wet drying of floors. If plastic mats contain such high levels of harmful phthalates, I think the Swedish Chemicals Agency should do everything to ban them.

    2. Thanks for the long exposition without a single question answer. It provided an interesting new dimension in the afternoon! 😀

  11. Incredibly factual and good! However, wondering what it means for the EU to ban phthalates in toys etc, does it also prohibit the import of toys with phthalates for sale? Manufacturing itself is rarely done in the EU. Also do not think that the study basis is sufficient to dismiss the dangerous health effects of phthalates and brominated flame retardants even in "small amounts" in children, although I agree that it is completely wrong to focus on the dust. Would love to see more research in the subject, even if for me it is quite unscientific enough with the stinging plastic smell that hangs like a heavy fog in most toy stores to not want to buy these toys for my children.

    1. Here's what it says on the Institute of Environmental Medicine's (Karolinska Institutet) website, Riskwebben:

      “Since January 2007, DEHP, DBP and GDP have been banned in toys and childcare items if the content exceeds 0.1 percent. The phthalates diisononyl phthalate (DINP), diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP) and di-n-octyl phthalate (DNOP) are prohibited from being used in toys and childcare articles that children can put in their mouth if the content exceeds 0.1 percent. "


    1. So it is. The hygiene hypothesis is called that theory, and all data supports it. Allergies did not exist before the early 19th century and first appeared among educated people in Europe's major cities. As early as the end of the 19th century, it was noted that allergies never affected poor people and peasants (unlike most diseases, which are more common in poor people). Then the allergies increased throughout the 20th century and after 1960 the increase became even steeper. In developing countries, allergies are still very rare.

      Three factors are known to protect against allergy, namely, growing up 1) in poverty and poverty 2) with many older siblings 3) with animals, most preferably in a dairy farm, These observations have been summarized in the hygiene hypothesis, namely that a growing a lot of bacteria and viruses give the immune system the education it needs to not overreact to harmless substances in the environment (= allergy).

      It is also known that living conditions during the very first life span are crucial to the risk of developing allergies. This is known because children who are adopted from a country where there is hardly any allergy (eg India) to Sweden become as allergic as children born in Sweden, if the adoption takes place before the child is one year old. However, if the child is of school age when adopted, the likelihood of developing allergy is much lower than if the child was born in Sweden. From this it can be concluded that the immune system must be stimulated by bacteria and viruses very early in life in order to develop properly. Once in the beginning of time, we lived in very unhygienic conditions, with lots of infections. It was not good, because many people, especially toddlers, died of infections. But our immune system is set in such an environment, and when it gets a little clean and germ-free, it can start running amok…

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