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The next time you think about celebrating by ordering a nice bottle of French wine, you might want to remember this. Researchers just found that your lovely glass of Bordeaux is probably infused with hormone-disrupting phthalates.
Their study tested the concentrations of various phthalates in French wines and grape spirits marketed in Europe or intended for export. Overall they found that 83% of the samples tested contained phthalates at some level. 100% of the spirits analyzed contained at least one type of phthalates.
Phthalates are considered major potential endocrine disruptors. They are not acutely toxic but active at low levels in the body. Their chemical structures resemble certain natural hormones. Hormone receptors in people and animals are tricked into treating these chemicals as real hormones.
Phthalates are commonly used as plasticizers. They're added to plastics, synthetic coatings and paints to improve their flexibility and resistance to temperature variations. They're also found in personal care products such as perfume, lotions, cosmetics and nail polish. They're even in medication or nutritional supplement coatings.
The European Union regulates the use of phthalates. Regulations cover the use plastics likely to come into contact with food and beverages. The regulation focuses specifically on certain phthalates, listed as toxic for reproduction.
In this study the researchers found four phthalates of concern. One is already not approved to come into contact with food and drink. The others will be banned starting on January 1, 2015.
DBP (dibutyl phthalate)
DBP has been classified as a reproductive and developmental toxicant in California. It's also a popular nail polish ingredient. It was the most common phthalate found by the researchers. 59% of the wines contained significant quantities of DBP.
The amount of DBP found in 11% percent of wines exceeded the levels allowed by European regulations. 19% of spirits exceeded the legal limits.
DEHP (diethylhexl phthalate)
DEHP is a popular chemical additive for making plastics softer. Significant amounts of it were found in 15% of the wine tested.
This chemical along with DBP was the most common phthalate found in spirits. 90% of spirits contained at least one of them.
Exposure to DEHP causes changes in the male reproductive system and the normal production of sperm in young animals.[i] It's also been associated with an increase in the occurrence of adenoma and hepatocellular carcinoma in rodents.[ii]
One study found that children with the highest levels of DEHP in their blood had nearly five times the odds of being obese compared with children with the lowest levels.
BBP (butyl benzyl phthalate)
BBP is commonly used in vinyl flooring and fake leather purses and couches. It was found in 15% of wines and 40% of spirits tested.
DiBP (di-isobutyl phthalate)
This chemical is not permitted to come into contact with food under current EU regulations.
It was not detected in wine but showed up in 25% of the spirits analyzed. But only spirits aged over 20 years contained measurable concentrations.
The spirits had higher levels of contamination because phthalates migrate more easily into products with high ethanol content.
How Do Phthalates Get In Your Wine?
The major source of contamination was found to be epoxy resin coatings used on vats in the wineries. Wines come in contact with phthalates in hoses, vats, pumps, gaskets, and fermentation tanks. Synthetic corks were also found to contain small quantities of DiBP.
The researchers recommended that wineries replace old vats. They could also eliminate contaminated coatings from vats and replace them with materials that don't contain phthalates.
As for consumers, they advised not buying wines aged more than two years in a treated vat. But how would you know? They suggest getting to know your vintner and asking the hard questions. Or maybe you could make your own?
Other studies have shown that phthalates increase rates of childhood obesity.
For more information visit GreenMedInfo's page on phthalates.
[i] Blount BC, Silva JS, Caudill SP, Needham LL, Pirkle JL, Sampson EJ, Lucier GW, Jackson RJ, Brock JW. 2000. Levels of seven urinary phthalate metabolites in a human reference population. Environ Health Perspect.
[ii] Integrated Risk Information System. 2003. US Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, MICROMEDEX, Inc., Greenwood Village, Colorado.