Saturday, October 16, 2010


Use of plastics in the day to day life of human beings has become so omnipotent that one cannot imagine the effect of a future ban on these ubiquitous material on the quality of life. While the chemicals used in manufacturing plastics pose safety problems of different dimensions, especially in food contact applications, the near intractability of plastics present an entirely different problem to the environment. Increasing safety concerns are making the manufacturers more and more cautious in reducing likely toxic effects of migrant chemicals from plastics, the eventual drying up of fossil fuel wells will force the industry to look for more sustainable sources for making acceptable substitutes. One of the widely occurring leached chemicals from plastics in the environment, Phthalates are biologically immune to degradation and can accumulate in future to intolerable levels with grave health debilitating effect. The Ozone treatment which is becoming a standard disinfection technique was expected to destroy Phthalates. But recent findings that the oxidative artifacts from these contaminants may pose some hazard is some what disturbing.

"Phthalate esters or phthalates are widely used to improve the flexibility and softness of PVC resins, cellulose and other polymers. However, because of their high levels of production and utilisation, leached phthalates have become persistent organic pollutants in aquatic environments. Several of these chemicals have been classified as endocrine disrupters by the World Health Organisation. Some of the most frequently identified phthalates in environmental samples are short-chained esters such as diethyl phthalate (DEP), which originates from discharged waste water and leaching from plastic products. Studies have also shown that DEP is difficult to degrade biologically and photochemically. The release of DEP into water environments is therefore an emerging issue for public health. Advanced oxidation technologies such as the ozone process are widely used in drinking water and waste water treatment because of their strong oxidation and disinfection capabilities. The ozone process could have potential for the elimination of DEP in water. However, some highly persistent unknown by-product peaks of DEP formed during oxidation have been detected and some by-products are thought to remain in solution. There is therefore a need to examine the DEPozonation degradation pathway".

Though the above report does not still cause any panic because of the inconclusive nature of the studies, it is necessary to get to the bottom of this issue through more studies. Phthalate contamination is a man-made problem and in the long run it is better if the use of these chemicals in plastics are progressively shunned and the industry is bound to work in this direction once the full ramifications of the impact of Phthalates become apparent. With the pace of research and development on biodegradable plastics picking up rapidly, synthetic materials made from fossil fuels can be expected to decline significantly in the coming years.


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