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Home>Water University>Water Contaminants>Di (2-ethylhexyl) Phthalate

Di (2-ethylhexyl) Phthalate

This is a fact sheet about a chemical that may be found in some public or private drinking water supplies. It may cause health problems if found in amounts greater than the health standard set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

What is Di (2-ethylhexyl) Phthalate and how is it used?

Di (2-ethylhexyl) Phthalate, or DEHP, is the most commonly used of a group of related chemicals called phthalates or phthalic acid esters. The greatest use of DEHP is as a plasticizer for polyvinylchloride (PVC) and other polymers including rubber, cellulose and styrene. A number of packaging materials and tubings used in the production of foods and beverages are polyvinyl chloride contaminated with phthalic acid esters, primarily DEHP.

The list of trade names given below may help you find out whether you are using this chemical at home or work.

Trade Names and Synonyms:

Dioctyl phthalate
Pittsburgh PX-138
Platinol AH
RC Plasticizer DOP
Reomol D79P
Sicol 150
Staflex DOP
Truflex DOP
Vestinol AH
Vinicizer 80
Palatinol AH
Hercoflex 260
Kodaflex DOP
Mollan O
Nuoplaz DOP
Eviplast 80
Flexol DOP
Good-rite GP264
Hatcol DOP
Ergoplast FDO
DAF 68
Bisoflex 81

Why is Di (2-ethylhexyl) Phthalate being regulated?

In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law requires EPA to determine safe levels of chemicals in drinking water which do or may cause health problems. These non-enforceable levels, based solely on possible health risks and exposure, are called Maximum Contaminant Level Goals.

The MCLG for phthalate has been set at zero because EPA believes this level of protection would not cause any of the potential health problems described below.

Based on this MCLG, EPA has set an enforceable standard called a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL). MCLs are set as close to the MCLGs as possible, considering the ability of public water systems to detect and remove contaminants using suitable treatment technologies.

The MCL has been set at 6 parts per billion (ppb) because EPA believes, given present technology and resources, this is the lowest level to which water systems can reasonably be required to remove this contaminant should it occur in drinking water.

These drinking water standards and the regulations for ensuring these standards are met, are called National Primary Drinking Water Regulations. All public water supplies must abide by these regulations.

What are the health effects?

Short-term: EPA has found phthalate to potentially cause the following health effects when people are exposed to it at levels above the MCL for relatively short periods of time: mild gastrointestinal disturbances, nausea, vertigo.

Long-term: Phthalate has the potential to cause the following effects from a lifetime exposure at levels above the MCL: damage to liver and testes; reproductive effects; cancer.

How much Di (2-ethylhexyl) Phthalate is produced and released to the environment?

Disposal of polyvinyl chloride and other DEHP-containing materials by incineration, landfill, etc., will result in the release of DEHP into the environment. DEHP has been detected in the effluent of numerous industrial plants.

From 1987 to 1993, according to EPA's Toxic Chemical Release Inventory, DEHP releases to land and water totalled over 500,000 lbs., of which about 95 percent was to land. These releases were primarily from rubber and plastic hose industries. The largest releases occurred in Wisconsin and Tennessee.

What happens to Di (2-ethylhexyl) Phthalate when it is released to the environment?

DEHP will adhere to soil, and so will neither evaporate nor leach into groundwater. DEHP has a strong tendency to adsorb to soil and sediments. In water, it will be degraded by microbes in a matter of weeks. DEHP does have a tendency to accumulate in aquatic organisms.

How will Di (2-ethylhexyl) Phthalate be detected in and removed from my drinking water?

The regulation for phthalate became effective in 1994. Between 1993 and 1995, EPA required your water supplier to collect water samples every 3 months for one year and analyze them to find out if phthalate is present above 0.6 ppb. If it is present above this level, the system must continue to monitor this contaminant.

If contaminant levels are found to be consistently above the MCL, your water supplier must take steps to reduce the amount of phthalate so that it is consistently below that level. The following treatment methods have been approved by EPA for removing phthalate: Granular activated charcoal.

How will I know if Di (2-ethylhexyl) Phthalate is in my drinking water?

If the levels of phthalate exceed the MCL, 6 ppb, the system must notify the public via newspapers, radio, TV and other means. Additional actions, such as providing alternative drinking water supplies, may be required to prevent serious risks to public health.

This is a factsheet about a chemical that may be found in some public or private drinking water supplies. It may cause health problems if found in amounts greater than the health standard set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Drinking Water Standards:

Mclg: Zero

Mcl: 6 ppb (parts per billion)

Di (2-ethylhexyl) Phthalate Releases to Water and Land, 1987 to 1993 (in pounds):

Water Land
TOTALS* (in pounds) 16,910 471,191

Top Five States*
WI 500 255,000
TN 3,491 80,419
OH 268 62,982
NJ 3,956 23,139
NY 500 13,284

Major Industries
Misc rubber products 274 311,900
Rubber, plastic hose 10 80,019
Cyclic crudes, intermed. 3,099 12,200

* Water/Land totals only include facilities with releases greater than 100 lbs.

Note: This fact sheet is part of a larger publication adapted from U.S. EPA publication: EPA National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.