Prompted by the first widespread federal study measuring phthalates and other chemicals in humans, a coalition of environmental and health groups is seeking more funding for such testing.
The study, released March 21 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, found that people have higher levels of potentially toxic phthalates in their blood than had been previously thought. But it emphasized that additional research is needed to determine whether people are exposed at dangerous levels.
It is that uncertainty that prompted the groups, including the American Public Health Association and the National Environmental Trust, to issue their call for more funding.
"There are 80,000 chemicals in commerce today, and this report covered 27," said Richard Levinson, associate executive director of the APHA in Washington. "If we are to understand the impact of these chemicals, we are going to have to monitor more than 27 of them."
"The problem is that phthalates are much more ubiquitous in the environment than anybody imagined," he said.
Pregnant women and young children are exposed to them, and animal data "suggests a real danger" in some cases, he said.
But the phthalate industry said the CDC report contains no information that raises questions about human health. The highest levels reported in the study "are within the safety limits" set by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a statement from the Phthalate Esters Panel of the American Chemistry Council.
Phthalates are used as softening agents in vinyl, and are an ingredient in cosmetics, soap and shampoo.
The formal release of the study did not contain any significant new information about phthalates beyond what CDC officials disclosed when discussing preliminary results last year.
The report noted that the phthalates widely used in plastics are not as prevalent in the body. But it said two others, diethyl phthalate and dibutyl phthalate, are much more common in people. The CDC said research needs to focus on those two, DEP and DBP.
Medical circles continue to debate the safety of phthalates and PVC medical devices. The California Medical Association passed a resolution recently urging further study of DEHP-containing products in pediatric intensive-care units. But it rejected tougher language, a CMA spokesman said.