Author: John Barron – Managing Director, Reagecon Diagnostics Ltd, Shannon Free Zone, County Clare, Ireland


Because of their extensive use in plastics, phthalates of various types are now ubiquitously present in the environment. The fact that they can migrate into foodstuffs, can bioaccumulate, are toxic and poorly degradable means that they are of concern from a health and safety perspective. To protect consumers, many methods have been developed to qualitatively and quantitatively detect and measure phthalates, with chromatography being the method of choice. Irrespective of the method used, there is a requirement for high quality, well characterised phthalate standards. Reagecon offers a significant range of such standards which can be used for calibration, verification, quality control and method validation of chromatographic equipment.

1.0 Introduction

Phthalates are esters produced by esterification of phthalic acid with different alcohols. They are the most commonly used plasticisers, which are added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency and durability. Phthalates may be classified into two groups, based on molecular weight, comprising low molecular weight phthalates (ester side-chain lengths, one to four carbons) which include dibutyl phthalate (DBP), diethyl phthalate (DEP) and dimethyl phthalate (DMP) and high-molecular-weight phthalates (ester side-chain lengths, five or more carbons), which include bis (2-n-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and dinonyl phthalate (DINP). These compounds can be found in a wide range of products, including adhesives and glues, electronics, medical devices, tubing, packaging, cosmetics, children’s toys and food. Their presence in different products of everyday use means they can be found in all parts of the environment.

2.0 Potential Health Implications of Phthalates

Since phthalates are incorporated in the polymer matrix in almost all plastic materials, these can easily migrate into foods and drinking water from the packaging or bottling material. Thus, phthalates can bioaccumulate in tissues and in the food chain. Phthalates are poorly biodegradable and are potentially toxic. They have been associated with a number of health problems that include endocrine, respiratory, neurological and reproductive disorders. Several phthalates have been prioritised as significantly hazardous substances by many protection organisations. For example, certain phthalates have been identified as priority hazardous substances by the European Union (EU), the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other international organisations.

3.0 Analytical Techniques

In order to protect the consumers, sensitive and reliable methods for rapid detection of phthalates present in food and food contact materials are clearly needed. Although, liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) methods for phthalates have been described, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) is the preferred method for phthalate measurement due to the high reproducibility and specificity obtained.

4.0 Phthalate Standards and Further Reading

Irrespective of analytical methodology, there is a requirement for high quality, pure, well characterised phthalate standards. Such standards have recently been developed in this laboratory and we have as part of this work, participated in a significant study on the quantification of phthalates in commercially available drinking water from different producers. Furthermore, this study provides specific data about the concentration of DBP and DEHP attributable to the migration of phthalates from food contact materials.(1)

For further details, specifications, pack sizes and options available, please see our full listing of phthalate standards.

(1) Improved method for rapid detection of phthalates in bottled water by gas chromatography–mass spectrometry Paz Oteroa, Sushanta Kumar Sahaa, Siobhan Moaneaa, John Barronb, Gerard Clancyb, Patrick Murraya

a Shannon Applied Biotechnology Centre, Limerick Institute of Technology, Moylish Park, Limerick, Ireland

b Reagecon Diagnostics Limited Shannon Free Zone, Shannon, Co. Clare, Ireland.

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