Moving towards safer alternatives

Subsport - Substitution Support Portal

379-EN, General section

Flexible cove and capping former without phthalates


Phthalates are used as plasticiser in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to provide flexibility and. Due to concerns over the reproductive toxicity of phthalates an alternative plasticiser, trioctyltrimellitate (TOTM) is used as alternative to give flexibility to the capping and cove former made from PVC containing phthalates.


Substituted substance(s)

  1. Phthalates

    CAS No.  EC No.  Index No. 

Alternative substance(s)

  1. Trioctyl trimellitate

    CAS No. 3319-31-1 EC No.  Index No. 

Other type of alternative

Reliability of information

Evidence of implementation: there is evidence that the solution was implemented and in use at time of publication

Hazard assessment

Some phthalates are endocrine disruptors, and some are classified as being CMR substances. For example Bis-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP) and Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) are classified by the REACH regulations as Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs) as being toxic for reproduction. The three phthalates are also banned in children’s products in the European Union. DINP has been widely used as a substitute for the SVHC’s but it too has restrictions placed upon it for use in the manufacture of children’s’ toys.

TOTM (trioctyltrimellitate) was assessed against hazards in hazardous Substance Database according to SUBSPORT Screening Criteria (SDSC) and is not listed in the database.

» Check the Substance Database according to SUBSPORT Screening Criteria (SDSC)

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Substitution description

Phthalates are widely used as plasticiser in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to to make flexible PVC products.  About one million tonnes of phthalates are produced in Western Europe each year. More than 90% of phthalates are used to plasticise PVC (polyvinyl chloride).  Plasticised PVC is widely used in articles such as flooring,  wallpapers, wires and cables, bathing equipment, roofing membranes, automotive applications, medical tubing and blood-bags.

Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) is the most commonly used phthalate. DEHP as well as Butylbenzyl phthalate (BBP), Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and Di-isobutyl phthalate (DIBP) have an adverse effect on the male reproductive organs and sexual differentiation during fetal development and are classified and labelled as Category 1B reproductive substances.  Because phthalates are not chemically bonded to PVC, they vaporise easily. They can be released from products or dissolve upon contact with liquids or fats. Exposure may happen from direct contact to articles or indirectly from dust and indoor air. Phthalates may also pose risks for aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Some phthalates are bioaccumulative and have been detected in aquatic organisms (Lowell Centre for Sustainable Production, 2011). These problems have led many companies to seek alternative materials for their products.

Gemini Adhesives Ltd. has removed phthalates from their flexible cove former and capping strips by using the alternative plasticiser trioctyltrimellitate (TOTM).  The flexible cove former and capping strips are used e.g. in hospitals. In contrast to TOTM phthalates may cause problems leading to installation failures due to migration into adhesives and into the atmosphere in buildings.  This is a problem particularly in hospitals where shrinkage of PVC and breakdown of adhesive bonds caused by phthalate migration can allow the build up of microbes in the gaps that occur and which are difficult/impossible to clean (picture 1).  Also once the adhesive is contaminated  there is no quick fix to reinstate the de-bonded capping. It cannot be over adhered. The capping will have to be removed, floor covering cut back, cove former removed, contaminated adhesive  on walls ground back, walls made good and re painted followed by the complete replacement of the original capping and coving.

TOTM has a high molecular weight and bulky structure and thus a low migration potential (picture 2). It is not classified or labelled. It is not a CMR substance and is also not subject to risk reduction (please go to further reading to access the SDS for TOTM). TOTM is compatible with PVC and can serve as direct substitute for the low molecular weight phthalates when used in PVC to make it softer and more flexible. TOTM is currently used primarily in blood and bag infusion sets.

Gemini Adhesives Ltd. has worked with TOTM and has used it in a way which overcomes installation and adhesion problems exhibited by phthalate alternatives to DEHP such as DINP. They have also managed to offer the product at a highly competitive price. Gemini Adhesives Ltd. guarantees that their products (flexible cove former and capping strips) do not contain any substances that  are restricted by the RoHS legislation as well as any substances greater than 0.1% listed on the SVHC list of REACH. For the Gemini PVC statement see further reading.

“I feel that this study shows successful commercial results and offers a viable and practical solution to a common installation problem through a phthalate replacement option. This will give confidence to others currently dependent on phthalates to give a try.  Also PVC is widely recycled post consumer use and this material eliminates the SVHC phthalates that are currently being recycled into new articles “, says Alan Best, sustainability consultant.


Picture 1: Shrinkage of PVC and breakdown of adhesive bonds caused by phthalate migration


Picture 2: TOTM has a high molecular weight and bulky structure and thus a low migration potential

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Case/substitution evaluation

This is a case story from a user, describing an alternative material to substitute phthalates from their products. The alternative is used as softener in PVC. PVC is intrinsically hazardous and although the polymer is not listed in the hazardous substances database according to SUBSPORT screening criteria, the monomer – vinyl chloride – is listed in SDSC as carcinogen and does not comply with SUBSPORT criteria. PVC is a polymer associated with many negative aspects, both concerning human health and the environment and should therefore be phased out. PVC is still widely used. The alternative is useful information for applications where it may not be possible to substitute PVC, yet. SUBSPORT provides several case stories for PVC alternatives.

TOTM is compatible with PVC and does not evaporate or leach from products like DEHP and other phthalates. According to the user, the manufacturers have worked with TOTM and have used it in a way which overcomes installation and adhesion problems exhibited by phthalate alternatives to DEHP and managed to offer the product at a highly competitive price.

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Other solutions

Alternative plasticiser e.g.: phosphates, benzoates, citrates, polymeric plasticisers, sulfonic acid esters, chloroparaffins, sorbitol based plasticisers.

Alternative material: alternative plastics that do not require phthalates (e.g. polyurethane, polyethylene), biobased plastics

Further information

Safety Data Sheet for TOTM here

Gemini PVC statement: here

Lowell Centre for Sustainable Production, Phthalates and their alternatives:health and environmental concerns, University of Massachusetts Lowell, 2011, pp. 1-24.  Report available here

Further languages available

Who provided the information

Type of information supplier
Producer / distributor


Alan Best
sustainability consultant

Andy Douglas
Gemini Adhesives Ltd
Tel.:   +44 (0)1530 224712

Publication source

Type of publication and availability 

Comments from SUBSPORT users

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Publication or last update: 10.04.2013