phthalates, family of chemical compounds made from alcohols and phthalic anhydride, C6H4(CO)2O. Oily, colorless, odorless liquids that do not evaporate readily, they are used primarily to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) soft and flexible. When added to plastics, phthalates allow the long polyvinyl molecules to slide against one another. Phthalates may be found in some types of flooring, medical devices such as intravenous (IV) bags and tubing, children's toys, lubricants, footwear, electrical cable, hair sprays, and as plasticizers in nail polish, perfumes or other fragrances to make the scent last longer. The so-called new car smell, which becomes especially pungent after a car has been sitting in the sun, is partly the odor of phthalates volatilizing from a hot plastic dashboard. In laboratory animals, some phthalates have been linked with liver abnormalities as well as fertility problems and birth defects. As a consequence, the use of some phthalates in children's toys is restricted in the European Union.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.