Chemical and Material Risk Management Program

The Basics

Phthalate esters

What are Phthalate esters?

  • Phthalate esters are a class of synthetic, industrial chemical compounds containing a phenyl ring with two attached and extended acetate groups . They are widely used in the manufacture of products for commercial, consumer, and or military use.
  • Example of uses include munitions, seals, adhesives, and flexible plastics.

What are the common uses of Phthalate esters?

  • By far the largest use for phthalate esters is to plasticize (make flexible) PVC vinyl resins. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) with phthalate ester additives is sometimes called Flexible PVC.
  • Phthalate esters may be found in products such as toothbrushes, automobile parts, tools, toys, and food packaging.

Why are phthalate esters on the DoD Emerging Chemicals Action List?

  • DoD is examining phthalate esters because of the increased reports of their potential toxicity and emerging evidence of adverse impacts on reproductive system development. Specific to PVC, the presence of phthalates has received a great deal of attention due to evidence that phthalates migrate fairly easily out of the plastic under mechanical stress.
  • Increased regulatory scrutiny by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the European Union (EU) could limit supplies of critical DoD equipment or components, or increase their costs. For example, the EPA is undertaking an Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessment of certain phthalate esters, including di(ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) and butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP). U.S. suppliers have begun to discontinue certain phthalates, and the production of some has already ceased in Europe EU.
  • Phthalate esters used in common items such as stuff bags are not a concern for DoD, since the marketplace will produce alternatives as needed because the product is not critical to DoD’s mission and research on alternatives is robust; however, for critical items specific to the military, DoD may need to develop and test alternatives for phthalate esters. DoD uses phthalates in non-PVC specialty applications having decades of research history. For example, phthalates are used by the DoD in several medium caliber propellant formulations to improve the quality of propellant binders, create preferable physical properties, and increase energy yield. Finding alternatives for this unique use may require years of research and testing.

How is DoD managing the risk posed by phthalate esters?

  • DoD is in the process of determining where phthalate esters are used is in military specialty applications. Examples include uses in , such as munitions, seals, adhesives, and flexible plastics. For DoD applications containing Flexible PVC, preliminary surveys suggest that high performance DoD specialty items might not contain PVC components due to its subpar properties in critical areas such as chemical agent resistance.
  • After completing a Phase II Impact Assessment, DoD will develop and implement specific risk management options (RMOs) to address areas of high risk.

Where can I get more information on the human health and environmental concerns related to phthalate esters?