Skip to main content
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS AND TOXIC CHEMICALS WHERE YOU LIVE, WORK, AND PLAY

Phthalates

What are they?

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastic and vinyl. 

Phthalates are used in many consumer products, including:

  • Cosmetics and personal care products
  • Plastic and vinyl toys
  • Shower curtains
  • Miniblinds and wallpaper
  • Vinyl flooring
  • Raincoats
  • Food packaging and wraps 
  • Detergents
  • Adhesives
  • Plastic pipes
  • Medical equipment and devices
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics

Phthalates had been used to make pacifiers, soft rattles, and teething rings, but have not been allowed in those products since 1999.

See also: Brownfield Food and Cooking Healthcare Services Homes Drinking Water Reproductive Health Learning and Developmental Disabilities

Where are Phthalates found?

  • Consumer products – many plastic, vinyl, and personal care products
  • Food and water – food or water packaged in plastic, or contaminated water
  • Air – vapors or dust contaminated with phthalates

How can I be exposed to Phthalates?

Phthalates commonly enter(s) the body through:

Eating
Ingestion (swallowing)
  • Eating food or water packaged in plastic, or drinking water contaminated with phthalates; for children, chewing on soft vinyl toys or products made with phthalates
Inhalation
Inhalation (breathing)
  • Breathing dust in rooms with plastic miniblinds, wallpaper, or flooring that contain phthalates
Touching
Skin contact
  • Touching or using products made with phthalates

What happens when I am exposed to Phthalates?

The health effects of exposure to phthalates are not yet fully known but are being studied by several government agencies.

One phthalate, Di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), is an endocrine disruptor and can cause cancer.

Some phthalates may affect human reproduction or development.

Who is at risk for exposure to Phthalates?

  • Consumers
    • Many consumer products are made with phthalates.
  • Infants and children
    • Many children’s toys and products are made with phthalates.
  • Medical patients
    • Dialysis patients, hemophiliacs, or people who received blood transfusions may be exposed to tubing or containers made with phthalates.

Reduce your risk

If you think your health has been affected by exposure to phthalates, contact your health care professional. 

Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling chemicals. For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

  • Do you use well water?
  • Do you use cosmetics, personal care products, cleaning products, or other plastic and vinyl products that contain phthalates?
  • Do you eat or drink foods that have been in contact with plastic containers and packaging?
  • Do you use tubing or containers made with phthalates?
  • Are you a dialysis patient or hemophiliac, or do you receive blood transfusions from sources that use tubing made with phthalates?
  • Do your children play with soft vinyl toys made with phthalates?
  • When possible, avoid foods with plastic packaging. Use glass containers for food.
  • Never heat food in plastic.
  • Avoid plastic containers and plastic wrap that may contain phthalates.
  • Read the labels of personal care products, and avoid products that contain phthalates.
  • Avoid products whose labels list “fragrance” as these products may contain phthalates.
  • Routinely test your well water for phthalates. 
  • If your well water has high levels of phthalates, contact your local or state health agency or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for information on how to reduce your exposure.
  • If your well water contains phthalate levels above EPA’s drinking water advisory levels, consider using bottled water for drinking and cooking or install an activated carbon filtration system or reverse osmosis system.
  • Don’t let children play with soft vinyl toys or other products made with phthalates.
  • Don’t let children play with old plastic toys and teething rings.
  • Use baby bottles that do not contain phthalates.
  • Don’t let children play in dirt near waste sites or factories.
Additional Resources
  • Consumer Guide: Phthalates and Bisphenol A
    Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units
    Consumer guide to phthalates and bisphenol A that addresses sources of exposure, health effects, and how to protect yourself from these chemicals.
  • Phthalates Factsheet
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    Information on phthalates, including sources of exposure, effects on human health, levels of metabolites in the US population, and links to additional resources.
  • Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP). ToxFAQs
    Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
    Factsheet with answers to most frequently asked questions about di(2-ethylhexyl) phthlate (DEHP) exposure and its effect on human health, developed by a federal public health agency that protects communities from harmful health effects related to exposure to natural and man-made hazardous substances.
  • Di-n-octylphthalate (DNOP). ToxFAQs
    Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
    Factsheet with answers to most frequently asked questions about di-n-octylphthalate (DNOP) exposure and its effect on human health, developed by a federal public health agency that protects communities from harmful health effects related to exposure to natural and man-made hazardous substances.
  • Di-n-butyl Phthalate. ToxFAQs
    Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
    Factsheet with answers to most frequently asked questions about di-n-butyl phthalate exposure and its effect on human health, developed by a federal public health agency that protects communities from harmful health effects related to exposure to natural and man-made hazardous substances.
  • Diethyl Phthalate. ToxFAQs
    Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
    Factsheet with answers to the most frequently asked questions about diethyl phthalate exposure, and its effect on human health, developed by a federal public health agency that protects communities from harmful health effects related to exposure to natural and man-made hazardous substances.
  • Cosmetics - Phthalates
    Food and Drug Administration
    Information on phthalates used in cosmetic products, and their potential effects on human health, inducing a 2010 survey form the FDA.

Science Classroom (Grades 6-8)

Enhance your education on toxic chemicals in our environment using lesson plans, games and activities, videos, informational websites, and more.


Loading the player...

National Library of Medicine
This lighthearted animation tackles phthalates, the chemicals used to make plastics more durable and flexible, and the risks they present to human health.

Loading the player...

National Library of Medicine
This parody on a classic video game teaches students about the dangers of the chemicals used in the production of plastics for the environment and human health.
Back to top