HCM CITY — Reducing the use of plastic furniture is one way of reducing exposure to di-ethylhexyl phthalates, a carcinogenic additive used to make plastic more flexible and softer, health experts told a conference held in HCM City on Wednesday.
Customers shop for plastic products in Ha Noi. Over exposure to di-ethylhexyl phthalates (DEHP), an additive used to make plastic more flexible, can cause cancer, health experts are warning. — VNS Photo Truong Vi
Prof Chu Pham Ngoc Son, deputy chairman of the city Public Health Association, said that DEHP easily leached into humans from daily-use plastic objects depending on the content of this chemical, the length of their use, and ambient temperature.
Plastic bowls with fatty food and plastic packages of blood also faced a similar threat, especially when they were heated, he said.
Common objects like curtains, raincoats, sticking-plaster, and plastic cups are made from PVC in which DEHP makes up nearly 50 per cent.
Thus, when buying stuff packaged in plastic, consumers should choose packaging that was free of DEHP, or DOP as it was sometimes called, he said.
DEHP was also used to make children's toys, he said. But some countries in Europe had banned toys containing more than 0.1 per cent of DEHP, dibutyl phthalate, and benzylbutyl phthalate, he said.
Parents should be careful in choosing toys and should not buy them from pavements or if they lack clear origins since children put them in their mouth, he warned.
DEHP is also used to make cosmetics like hair gel and nail polish, he said, adding they should be carefully used.
Prof Nguyen Chan Hung, chairman of the City Cancer Association, said it was dangerous when DEHP enters the digestive tract through the mouth because it was rapidly transformed into mono (2-ethyhexyl) phthalate (MEHP) which was toxic to the male reproductive system.
DEHP reduced testosterone production and causes harm to the prostate, penis, and testicles, he said.
DEHP was particularly toxic to fetuses, infants, and children, he said, adding that ingestion of the chemical during pregnancy could cause the child to have smaller penises and incomplete descent of the testes.
Some of the delegates, however, allayed fears saying DEHP only causes harm following continued exposure for a long time.
Besides, it did not accumulate in the body and was excreted, they said.
Hung also warned of the risk of exposure to DEHP from plastic medical devices which have become popular in the modern age.
Dr Ha Manh Tuan, head of the City Paediatric Hospital No.2, said his hospital found in 2006 that 42 per cent of all medical devices were made from plastic and the status continued.
But the hospital had implemented many measures to reduce the risk of exposure to DEHP among patients, especially kids, he claimed.
Hung said hospitals should reduce use of PVC equipment and storing of blood in PVC containers.
Tuan said the Ministry of Health should issue standards for DEHP content in medical equipment, and order manufacturers to indicate this content.
Social insurance funds should be willing to accept high prices for medical devices for hospitals to reduce PVC use, he said.
It was important to educate manufacturers, doctors, and nurses about the harm caused by DEHP to human health, he said.
DEHP had begun to be used in the production of food and water and many other products in Viet Nam, Son said.
Nguyen Thi Huynh Mai, deputy head of the city Department of Health's inspectorate, said her agency had co-operated with the Division of Food Safety and Hygiene to take samples from 17 food production facilities for testing between May 27 and June 17.
Tests showed that 69 samples, or well more than half, contained DEHP, she said, though it was one of the additives banned from use in food production.
Her agency ordered the recall of all the products containing DEHP, she added.
Last month the Ministry of Health issued temporary regulations limiting DEHP content in plastic food containers, she said, revealing that 38 other products made by eight other companies exceeded these limits.
Her agency would continue to take samples and test foods suspected to contain DEHP, she said.
Le Truong Giang, deputy head of the city Department of Health and chairman of the Public Health Association, said the city should strengthen propaganda about DEHP to ensure consumers clearly understand about its dangers. — VNS