Phthalates are a family of industrial chemicals used to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic and as solvents in cosmetics and other consumer products. They are often used to make plastics more durable and therefore called plasticizers. Some phthalates are used to help dissolve other materials.
Phthalates are in hundreds of products, such as vinyl flooring, lubricating oils, and personal-care products (soaps, shampoos, hair sprays). Some phthalates are in polyvinyl chloride plastics, which are used to make products such as plastic packaging, garden hoses, and medical tubing.
People are exposed to phthalates by eating and drinking foods that have contacted products containing phthalates. Some exposure can occur from breathing phthalate particles in the air. Children crawl around and touch many things, then put their hands in their mouths. Because of that hand-to-mouth behavior, phthalate particles in dust might be a greater risk for children than for adults. Inside a person’s body, phthalates are converted into breakdown products (metabolites) that quickly leave the body in urine.
Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors - they can disrupt the normal function of hormones in the human body. When combined at low levels, some phthalates can act together to cause similar harm as seen with exposure to just one phthalate at high levels. Phthalate exposure in humans has been linked to changes in sex hormone levels, altered development of genitals, and low sperm count and quality.
There are many things we can do to reduce exposure to phthalates:
-Avoid products with fragrance or perfume
-Avoid products that are made with polyvinyl chloride or PVC (shower curtains, raincoats, flooring, school binders, etc.)
-Read Non-Toxic: Guide to Living Healthy in a Chemical World, for a deeper dive into these and other toxic chemicals and what to do about them!