WASHINGTON — The use of phthalates in plastics is at the top of the agenda of a new U.S. government effort to review whether chemicals harm human reproduction.
The Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, a coordinated effort of more than half a dozen government agencies, plans to review existing studies and make recommendations about seven phthalates by August.
The center does not have a position on whether phthalates are harmful to human reproductive systems, but chose to start with them because of widespread concerns, said Sandy Lange, a spokeswoman with the center's Research Triangle Park, N.C., office.
The announcement comes on the heels of an Environmental Protection Agency study that found malformed reproductive organs in male rats whose mothers were exposed to moderately high levels of two phthalates. It is the first EPA study to find those effects from di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate, or DEHP, according to the head of that study.
The center is part of the National Toxicology Program, a $95 million effort funded mostly by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Its employees are existing NIEHS employees, but it is designed to coordinate federal research and policy efforts on reproductive toxins.
The center, which was established in January, includes representatives from the Food and Drug Administration, EPA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. It will hold three days of open meetings in August to review literature.
The EPA study found damage to rats from exposure to DEHP and di-n-butyl phthalate, but the exposure levels were higher than most people would experience, said Earl Gray, an EPA senior research biologist in Research Triangle Park. Research on reproductive effects on fetuses is a relatively new area, he said.
``These studies do not indicate the chemical is an absolute hazard,'' Gray said. ``It's just kind of startling that effects this blatant would be missed. It's not clear what the human health implications are. It's more clear what the data gaps are in our testing.''
Marian Stanley, director of the Chemical Manufacturers Association's phthalate esters panel, said Gray's study is preliminary and other studies have not found similar results. She said NTP is doing a more comprehensive study.