The chemical dibutyl phthalate, or DBP, acts as a binder to improve the lasting power of nail lacquer. But it's also been linked to cancer in lab animals, and underdeveloped genitals and other long-term fertility problems in newborn boys. Environmental groups have mobilized to get DBP removed from all nail polishes sold in the United States.
People come in contact with DBP and other phthalates in many forms, from children's plastic toys to vinyl shower curtains. A study published in September 2000 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the presence of dibutyl phthalates in every person tested -- and the highest levels in women ages 20 to 40. The CDC suggested that cosmetics might be a source.
Health and environmental groups began to search product labels and found that nail polish was the only product that listed phthalates as an ingredient. The Environmental Working Group published the findings in a November 2000 report titled "Beauty Secrets."
In 2002, along with Women's Voices for the Earth and Health Care Without Harm, EWG issued another report titled "Not Too Prettty" that included other products that contained phthalates. More than 70 percent of products tested at an independent lab contained at least one type of phthalate, from face creams, lotions and shampoos to hair sprays, deodorants and fragrances.
In January 2003, the European Union amended the Cosmetics Directive to ban the use of chemicals known or strongly suspected to cause cancer, mutation or birth defects. Since the amendment went into effect in September 2004, some companies have removed DBP from products sold in the United States.
Toluene is added to gasoline, used to produce benzene, and used as a solvent. Exposed to toluene may occur from breathing ambient or indoor air. The central nervous system (CNS) is the primary target organ for toluene toxicity in both humans and animals for acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) exposures. CNS dysfunction and narcosis have been frequently observed in humans acutely exposed to toluene by inhalation; symptoms include fatigue, sleepiness, headaches, and nausea. CNS depression has been reported to occur in chronic abusers exposed to high levels of toluene. Chronic inhalation exposure of humans to toluene also causes irritation of the upper respiratory tract and eyes, sore throat, dizziness, and headache. Human studies have reported developmental effects, such as CNS dysfunction, attention deficits, and minor craniofacial and limb anomalies, in the children of pregnant women exposed to toluene or mixed solvents by inhalation. Reproductive effects, including an association between exposure to toluene and an increased incidence of spontaneous abortions, have also been noted. However, these studies are not conclusive due to many confounding variables. EPA has classified toluene as a Group D, not classifiable as to human carcinogenicity.