SPRI Home About SPRI

Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate

DEHP, Phthalic acid dioctyl ester, Diethylhexyl phthalate

SPRI Emission Reporting Threshold
10.0 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Air
0.1 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Water
0.1 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Waste Water
1.00 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Land
This sheet is a generic summary, designed to give the reader a basic level of background information about the substance in question. Great care has been taken to represent as effectively and correctly as possible the broad range of (not necessarily consistent) information which is available from a variety of sources. The reader must accept therefore that this sheet has no legal status and cannot be relied upon in any legal proceedings. SEPA disclaims any responsibility or liability whatsoever for errors and omissions in this sheet.
What is it?
Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) is a colourless to pale yellow oily liquid which has only a very slight smell. It boils at over 230 degrees celsius and does not evaporate easily. It does not dissolve well in water, but is very soluble in organic (carbon-containing) solvents. DEHP is part of a group of chemicals known as the phthalates.
What is it used for?
Most DEHP is added to plastics, particularly PVC, to make them more flexible. DEHP is found (at levels of up to 40%) in materials used for waterproof clothing, footwear, upholstery, shower curtains, food packaging, floor tiling and children's toys. It is also used in cosmetic and insect repellant formulations, in liquid soaps and detergents, as "carriers" for pesticides, in lacquers, lubricating oils, photographic film, wire casings and during the manufacture of paper.
Where does it come from?
Releases of DEHP may occur during its manufacture. Significant amounts are released when products containing it are used and when they are disposed of. These releases occur mainly to soil, but also to water bodies and a small amount to air.
How might it affect the environment?
Like other phthalates, DEHP pollution is of concern because it is very persistent in the environment and has a tendency to accumulate. There is also concern that it mimics the behaviour of animal hormones (that it is an "endocrine disruptor"). These effects may occur both in the vicinity of releases of DEHP and further afield. Hence, there is concern about the negative impacts of DEHP pollution at a global as well as local environmental level.
How might exposure to it affect human health?
Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate can enter the body by inhalation of air containing di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, ingestion of contaminated water or food, or by dermal contact with plastics containing di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate. There is little evidence as to the effects of exposure to di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate on human health. Inhalation of air containing di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate does not appear to have harmful effects on health. Ingestion of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate may cause irritation of the stomach and diarrhoea. The effects of short and long term exposure to high levels are unknown. There is no evidence available for the effects of dermal contact with di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate however adsorption of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate by the skin is slow. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has designated di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate as being not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans. However, exposure to di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate at normal background levels is unlikely to have any adverse effect on human health.
What steps are being taken to limit the potential impacts?
DEHP is listed as a priority substance for risk assessment under EC law (793/93/EEC) and hence is subject to related risk reduction strategies. It is also listed as a priority substance for the EC Water Framework Directive. The use of DEHP in newly produced children's toys has already been banned and it is likely that further uses will be prohibited under the EC Directive which restricts the marketing and use of certain dangerous chemicals (76/769/EEC). Internationally, it is listed as a candidate substance for inclusion in the OSPAR Convention which protects the marine environment of the north-east Atlantic Ocean.