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"Leach Alternative" -- The Discovery Files

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Researchers at University of California, Santa Cruz, have developed safer alternatives to phthalate plasticizers -- which can leach out of plastics into food water and the environment -- potentially preventing a variety of health problems. The alternatives can still enhance the suppleness, flexibility and longevity of plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), but they can't leach out of them because they are chemically bonded to the polymer chain.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

See ya phthalater.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: spelling bee mc) "Bobby," your word is "phthalate."

(Sound effect: kid) "phthalate...p-t-..." (Sound effect: buzzer--wrong!)

Oh yes, it took me down in 8th grade, but I know it now. Phthalate. P-h-t-h-a-l-a-t-e. You'll find 'em in a whole ton of products, but mostly used to enhance the suppleness, flexibility and longevity of one of the most common types of plastic: PVC. Trouble is, they have a bad habit of leaching into food, water and the environment. Researchers at UC Santa Cruz may have solved the whole thing.

They've developed chemicals, effective as current plasticizers for PVC that can't leach out. Instead of the usual mixing phthalates with fine-ground PVC and melting them together, the new process chemically binds them so they stay put.

Although phthalates are now banned in kids' toys and childcare items, they're still in vinyl siding and flooring, shower curtains, personal care products, cosmetics and even some air fresheners. (Sound effect: spray sound) Ooh, "fresh lemon-phthalate." Most everyone has some measurable amount in their system.

But it's never too "phtha-late" to start. This new research could let us have our plastics without eating them too.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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