Public Health Statement for Di-n-butyl Phthalate
Spanish: Di-n-Butil Ftalato
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This Public Health Statement is the summary chapter from the Toxicological Profile for Di-n-butyl Phthalate. It is one in a series of Public Health Statements about hazardous substances and their health effects. A shorter version, the ToxFAQs™, is also available. This information is important because this substance may harm you. The effects of exposure to any hazardous substance depend on the dose, the duration, how you are exposed, personal traits and habits, and whether other chemicals are present. For more information, call the ATSDR Information Center at 1-888-422-8737.
This public health statement tells you about di-n-butyl phthalate and the effects of exposure. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies the most serious hazardous waste sites in the nation. These sites make up the National Priorities List (NPL) and are the sites targeted for long-term federal cleanup activities. Di-n-butyl phthalate has been found in at least 471 of the 1,585 current or former NPL sites. However, the total number of NPL sites evaluated for this substance is not known. As more sites are evaluated, the sites at which di-n-butyl phthalate is found may increase. This information is important because exposure to this substance may harm you and because these sites may be sources of exposure.
When a substance is released from a large area, such as an industrial plant, or from a container, such as a drum or bottle, it enters the environment. This release does not always lead to exposure. You are exposed to a substance only when you come in contact with it. You may be exposed by breathing, eating, or drinking the substance, or by skin contact. If you are exposed to di-n-butyl phthalate, many factors determine whether you'll be harmed. These factors include the dose (how much), the duration (how long), and how you come in contact with it. You must also consider the other chemicals you're exposed to and your age, sex, diet, family traits, lifestyle, and state of health.
What is di-n-butyl phthalate?
Di-n-butyl phthalate is an odorless
and colorless or faintly yellow oily liquid that does not
occur in nature. It is a chemical that is added to hard plastics
to make them soft. The plastics that di-n-butyl phthalate
is used most in are called polyvinyl chloride plastics and
nitrocellulose lacquers. These plastics are used to make many
products that we use every day such as carpets, paints, glue,
insect repellents, hair spray, nail polish, and rocket fuel.
In 1994, more than 17 million pounds (i.e., 7.8 million kilograms)
of di-n-butyl phthalate were made.
Further information on the properties
and uses of di-n-butyl phthalate can be found in Chapters
4 and 5 of the toxicological profile.
What happens to di-n-butyl phthalate when it
enters the environment?
Di-n-butyl phthalate enters the
environment in many ways. Di-n-butyl phthalate is in
many items made of plastics such as carpets, paint, and nail
polish. When paint dries or new carpets are installed, a small
amount of di-n-butyl phthalate enters the air. Di-n-butyl
phthalate also gets into air by sticking to dust particles.
In air, di-n-butyl phthalate usually breaks down within
a few days, but not if it is stuck to dust. When it is on
dust, di-n-butyl phthalate can move with the wind for
many miles before dust drops to the ground. Di-n-butyl
phthalate can get into soil when people throw out certain
plastic items containing di-n-butyl phthalate and they
get buried. In water and soil, bacteria break down di-n-butyl
phthalate. This may happen in a day, or may take up to a month.
How long it takes to break down di-n-butyl phthalate
in soil or water depends on many factors. These factors include
the outside temperature, because di-n-butyl phthalate
breaks down more slowly when it is cold than when it is hot.
If di-n-butyl phthalate does not break down in soil,
it can get into groundwater and contaminate wells.
Further information on the uses of di-n-butyl phthalate and how it behaves in the environment can
be found in Chapters 5 and 6 of the toxicological profile.
How might I be exposed to di-n-butyl phthalate?
Because di-n-butyl phthalate has
so many uses, it is widespread in the environment. Most people
are probably exposed to low levels in air. Some people may
also be exposed to di-n-butyl phthalate in water, food,
or both. Most of the time, the largest source of exposure
is from air that contains di-n-butyl phthalate. Low
levels (0.01 parts per billion [ppb]) are present around the
globe, and levels of 0.03 to 0.06 ppb are often found in city
air. Higher levels can occur temporarily inside homes and
offices, especially when products containing di-n-butyl
phthalate, such as nail polish, are used or when new carpet
containing di-n-butyl phthalate is installed. Di-n-butyl
phthalate is present in some drinking water supplies, usually
at levels of around 0.1 to 0.2 ppb.
Another way you can be exposed is by
eating food containing di-n-butyl phthalate. Some di-n-butyl
phthalate in food comes from the materials used to package
and store the food. Some comes from di-n-butyl phthalate
taken up by fish and shellfish. Levels of di-n-butyl
phthalate in food have been found to range from about 40 to
570 ppb. The levels of di-n-butyl phthalate found in
air, water, and food are usually low enough that they are
not expected to cause any harmful effects. You can read about
this in Section 1.5. If you were
exposed to high levels of di-n-butyl phthalate, this
might be of concern.
Exposure to high levels could occur at
a number of places. For example, if you live near a factory
that makes or uses di-n-butyl phthalate, you could
be exposed if the factory allowed di-n-butyl phthalate
to escape into the air that you breathe or into the water
that you drink. If the factory spilled or disposed of any
di-n-butyl phthalate on the ground, you could also
be exposed by getting the soil on your skin. You could be
exposed to elevated levels of di-n-butyl phthalate
in these same ways if you live near a chemical waste site
that has allowed di-n-butyl phthalate to escape into
the environment. Di-n-butyl phthalate released into
the air, water, and soil is also of concern near garbage dumps
and landfills. This is because large amounts of products that
have di-n-butyl phthalate in them are thrown away at
these sites, and the di-n-butyl phthalate can slowly
come out of these products and get into air, water, or soil.
Further information on how you might
be exposed to di-n-butyl phthalate is given in Chapter 6 of
the toxicological profile.
How can di-n-butyl phthalate enter and leave my
If you eat or drink food or water containing
di-n-butyl phthalate, nearly all of the di-n-butyl
phthalate rapidly enters your body through the digestive system.
If you breathe air containing di-n-butyl phthalate,
it is likely that most of what you breathe in will enter your
body through the lungs, but this has not been studied in detail.
Di-n-butyl phthalate can also enter the body through
the skin, although this occurs rather slowly. Inside the body,
di-n-butyl phthalate is changed into other chemicals.
Most of these are quickly removed from the body in the urine.
The rest are removed in the feces. Most of the di-n-butyl
phthalate that enters the body is removed within 24 hours,
and virtually all of it is gone by 48 hours after exposure.
More information on how di-n-butyl phthalate
enters and leaves the body is given in Chapter 3 of the toxicological
How can di-n-butyl phthalate affect my health?
To protect the public from the harmful
effects of toxic chemicals and to find ways to treat people
who have been harmed, scientists use many tests. One way to
see if a chemical will hurt people is to learn how the chemical
is absorbed, used, and released by the body; for some chemicals,
animal testing may be necessary. Animal testing may also be
used to identify health effects such as cancer or birth defects.
Without laboratory animals, scientists would lose a basic
method to get information needed to make wise decisions to
protect public health. Scientists have the responsibility
to treat research animals with care and compassion. Laws today
protect the welfare of research animals, and scientists must
comply with strict animal care guidelines.
Di-n-butyl phthalate appears to
have relatively low toxicity, and large amounts are needed
to cause injury. Adverse effects on humans from exposure to
di-n-butyl phthalate have not been reported. In animals,
eating large amounts of di-n-butyl phthalate can affect
their ability to reproduce. In male animals, sperm production
can decrease after eating large amounts of di-n-butyl
phthalate. However, when exposure to di-n-butyl phthalate
stops, sperm production seems to return to near normal levels.
The levels of di-n-butyl phthalate that cause toxic
effects in animals are about 10,000 times higher than the
levels of di-n-butyl phthalate found in air, food,
or water. Exposure to high levels of di-n-butyl phthalate
might cause similar effects in humans as in animals, but this
is not known. In animals, large amounts of di-n-butyl
phthalate repeatedly applied to the skin for a long time cause
mild irritation. Although the available data do not indicate
that di-n-butyl phthalate causes cancer, this needs
to be more thoroughly studied.
Additional information on the levels
of exposure associated with harmful effects of di-n-butyl phthalate can be found in Chapters 2 and 3 of the toxicological
How can di-n-butyl phthalate affect children?
This section discusses potential health
effects from exposures during the period from conception to
maturity at 18 years of age in humans. Potential effects on
children resulting from exposures of the parents are also
considered. Very few studies have looked at how di-n-butyl phthalate can affect the health of children. It is likely
that the health effects seen in children exposed to di-n-butyl phthalate will be similar to the effects seen in adults. We
do not know whether children differ from adults in their susceptibility
to di-n-butyl phthalate. We do not know if exposure to di-n-butyl phthalate will result in birth defects or other developmental
effects in people. Birth defects have been observed in animals
exposed to high levels of di-n-butyl phthalate during development.
The developing animal is sensitive to di-n-butyl phthalate.
Death, low body weights, skeletal deformities, cleft palate,
and damage to the testes have been observed in the offspring
of animals ingesting large amounts of di-n-butyl phthalate.
We have no information to suggest that there are any differences
between children and adults in terms of how much di-n-butyl phthalate will enter the body, where di-n-butyl phthalate
can be found in the body, and how fast di-n-butyl phthalate
will leave the body. We do not know if di-n-butyl phthalate
can be transferred from the mother to an infant in breast
milk or whether it can cross the placenta.
How can families reduce the risk of
exposure to di-n-butyl phthalate?
If your doctor finds that you have been
exposed to significant amounts of di-n-butyl phthalate,
ask whether your children might also be exposed. Your doctor
might need to ask your state health department to investigate.
Di-n-butyl phthalate is used in many products that
are made from plastic. It is also in products like white glues
and carpenter's glues made from a plastic known as polyvinyl
acetate emulsion. Di-n-butyl phthalate is also used
in some paints, furniture lacquer, and nail polish. When it
is in anything, di-n-butyl phthalate is at a higher
level when that product is new. There is less in products
that are old. Because di-n-butyl phthalate may be in
some toys, there is a concern that children chewing on such
toys might be exposed. No measurements have yet been made
to show whether children are exposed in this way.
Is there a medical test to determine
whether I have been exposed to di-n-butyl phthalate?
Tests are available that can detect di-n-butyl phthalate in blood and body tissues, and the major
breakdown products of di-n-butyl phthalate can be measured
in urine. However, there is not enough information at this
time to use the results of such tests to predict the nature
or severity of any health effects that may result from exposure
to di-n-butyl phthalate. Since special equipment is needed,
these tests cannot be performed routinely in your doctor's
Further information on how di-n-butyl phthalate can be measured in exposed humans is presented in
Chapters 3 and 7of the toxicological profile.
What recommendations has the federal
government made to protect human health?
The federal government develops regulations
and recommendations to protect public health. Regulations
can be enforced by law. Federal agencies that develop
regulations for toxic substances include the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA), and the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA). Recommendations provide valuable guidelines to protect
public health but cannot be enforced by law. Federal
organizations that develop recommendations for toxic substances
include the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
(ATSDR) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety
and Health (NIOSH). Regulations and recommendations can be
expressed in not-to-exceed levels in air, water, soil, or
food that are usually based on levels that affect animals;
then they are adjusted to help protect people. Sometimes these
not-to-exceed levels differ among federal organizations because
of different exposure times (an 8-hour workday or a 24-hour
day), the use of different animal studies, or other factors.
Recommendations and regulations are also periodically updated
as more information becomes available. For the most current
information, check with the federal agency or organization
that provides it. Some regulations and recommendations for
di-n-butyl phthalate include the following: The federal government
has developed regulatory standards and advisories to protect
individuals from the potential health effects of di-n-butyl phthalate in the environment. EPA recommends that levels of
di-n-butyl phthalate in water not exceed 34 parts per million
(34,000 ppb). Any release of di-n-butyl phthalate to the
environment in excess of 10 pounds must be reported to the
federal government. NIOSH has established a limit of 5 milligrams
per cubic meter (5 mg/m3) di-n-butyl phthalate in workplace
air to protect the health of workers.
Additional information on governmental
regulations regarding di-n-butyl phthalate can be found in
Chapter 8 of the toxicological profile.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2001. Toxicological profile for Di-n-butyl Phthalate. Update. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.
Where can I get more information?
If you have questions or concerns, please contact your community or state health or environmental quality department or:
For more information, contact:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences
4770 Buford Highway
Chamblee, GA 30341-3717
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO 888-232-6348 (TTY)
Email: Contact CDC-INFO
ATSDR can also tell you the location of occupational and environmental health clinics. These clinics specialize in recognizing, evaluating, and treating illnesses resulting from exposure to hazardous substances.