Phthalates are a class of chemicals used as softeners, or plasticizers, in polyvinyl chloride (PVC, vinyl) products, as well as solvents and other additives in a wide range of consumer products. They’re found in flexible plastic and vinyl (PVC) toys, food packaging and cling wraps, medical devices, backpacks, shower curtains, building materials such as pipes, vinyl flooring and wallpaper, and other products, as well as adhesives, dyes, inks, mosquito insect repellents, and personal care products such as nail polish, skin moisturizers, and perfumes. They’re almost everywhere!

What are the potential health impacts of phthalates?

  • There are carcinogens.
  • The National Toxicology Program also concluded that high levels of DINP may adversely affect human reproduction or development.
  • High levels of exposure to DIP through the use of medical tubing and other plastic devices for feeding, medicating, and assisting the breathing of newborn infants may affect the development of the male reproductive system, such as HYPOSPADIAS AND EPISPADIAS according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
  • Other human and animal studies have found links to birth defects, decreased sperm counts and damaged sperm, increased risk of developing behavioral problems, premature birth, and respiratory difficulties in children with bronchial obstruction (such as asthma).

6 easy steps to reduce your exposure to phthalates:

  1. Avoid phthalates in PVC plastic. Even though most phthalates have been banned from toys and baby gear, they’re still present in anything that might be a hand-me-down, and potentially in toys intended for older children. It’s also still legal to use in things like backpacks and lunch boxes, so always look for PVC-free.  
  2. Read labels and look for phthalates on personal care products. Look for chemical names that include the word “phthalate, but also look for the word “fragrance” or “parfum.” These latter two ingredients are actually umbrella terms for the scents companies use and can include a variety of chemicals that don’t need to be spelled out in the ingredients list. (Fragrances are considered trade secrets.) Phthalates often hide in fragrances as they’re commonly used to stabilize (extend the life) of the scent. Contact manufacturers to find out if their fragrances are phthalate-free.  
  3. Do a “Sniff Test.” That ”new car” or ”plastic” smell from soft plastic toys, backpacks, teethers, raincoats and other plastic products usually comes from phthalates, which vaporize from plastic easily. Avoid microwaving in plastics and plastic wraps. Ditch these products altogether if you can!
  4. Dust frequently in rooms with vinyl mini-blinds, wallpaper and flooring that may contain phthalates. (Sunlight causes PVC to deteriorate into dust.)
  5. Ask for PVC-free IVs. If you have a medical need for frequent IV use, ask for PVC-free (especially if you’re pregnant and for babies). Visit Health Care Without Harm to find safer alternatives.
  6. Ask about prescription pills. Some oral medications are coated with phthalates to control when the pills dissolve. Evidence indicates that this may be a significant source of phthalate exposure for some patients.


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