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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 Healthcare Services Homes Food and Cooking Drinking Water Learning and Developmental Disabilities Reproductive Health

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:

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 (breathing)
  • Breathing dust in rooms with plastic miniblinds, wallpaper, or flooring that contain phthalates
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.
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