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Phthalates

Phthalates

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What are Phthalates?

Phthalates are a family of man-made chemicals found in everyday products like water bottles, shampoo, and medicine capsules. Phthalates include plasticizers, which allow plastic to be soft, like in a vinyl shower curtain, inflatable beach ball, or sandwich wrapper. Phthalates are also used in personal care products to prolong the life of fragrance. Medical tubing, medicine, and supplies can also include phthalates.

Studies have shown nearly universal exposure of men, women, and children to phthalates.

              

               —Dr. Russ Hauser, PhD    
                  TH Chan Harvard
                  School of Public Health

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Where are Phthalates found?

Humans are exposed through inhalation or by ingesting food or drink that has been exposed to phthalates in packaging and transport. Fast food in the U.S. contains plastic chemicals, including phthalates. A study led by researchers at the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, found that foods containing meat, such as cheeseburgers and chicken burritos, generally had higher levels of chemicals. Fries and cheese pizza also contained plastic chemicals.

Health impact of Phthalates on children

A National Institute of Health study led by Barrett M. Welch found that pregnant women who were exposed to more phthalates during their pregnancy had a higher risk of having their baby born too early. “Having a preterm birth can be dangerous for both baby and mom, so it is important to identify risk factors that could prevent it,” said lead author Dr. Kelly Ferguson., an epidemiologist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

Dr. Hauser at TH Chan Harvard School of Public Health shares “studies have shown nearly universal exposure of men, women, and children to phthalates.” He continued that these studies “have shown effects of phthalates on brain development, as well as a large body of literature showing a clear connection between phthalates and metabolic outcomes and effects on pregnancy.”

A study led by Lidia Mínguez-Alarcón of Harvard T.H. Chan looked at couples undergoing fertility treatment. The team found higher amounts of phthalates in fathers were associated with increased chance of fertility treatment failure. Phthalates have been shown to reduce testosterone levels in men. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), like phthalates, are widespread in the environment but exposures can be reduced, especially for couples trying to conceive.

Dr. Clara Sears and team from Brown University found that reducing dust in homes lowered children’s exposures to phthalates. This is important, she says, because phthalates are linked with asthma and behavioral problems in children.

 

You can reduce exposure to phthalates in dust by:

  1. Preventing dust accumulation in areas where young children frequently play
  2. Repairing worn or water-damaged indoor housing materials
  3. Washing children’s hands before mealtime.

10 ways to reduce your exposure to Phthalates

  1. Read the ingredients on personal care products, like shampoos, body lotions, and other cosmetics. Avoid products with “fragrance,” parabens (i.e., methyl paraben, propylparaben), and phthalates. Look for sunscreen with zinc oxide as the active ingredient.
  2. Swap air fresheners, scented candles, or other artificially scented products for unscented or certified, non-toxic alternatives.
  3. Eat fresh, home-cooked food. Avoid plastic/disposable food packaging and highly processed foods. Packaging with recycling label “3” indicates PVC or phthalates. Don’t eat fast food when possible.
  4. Swap disposable plastic utensils and dishes for bamboo or uncoated, phthalate-free alternatives.
  5. Remove your shoes when you enter your house to reduce household dust, which can contain phthalates.
  6. Wet-clean surfaces and vacuum with a HEPA filter regularly to further reduce household dust.
  7. When selecting items for the home, avoid vinyl plastics, including shower curtains, PVC flooring, and baseboards.
  8. Don’t give children vinyl plastic toys, older plastic toys, or plastic teething rings.
  9. Swap plastic baby bottles for glass or certified, phthalate-free alternatives.
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Phthalates are a global concern

People around the world are exposed to phthalates, and they have been linked with a number of health conditions. Reducing widespread exposure to phthalates must come from actions made by companies to reduce phthalates in their products and changes in standards and regulations.

Yufei Wang1,2 and Haifeng Qian authors of Phthalates and Their Impacts on Human Health, suggest the following initiatives, among others, to reduce widespread phthalate exposure:

  1. Enforce regulation of phthalates in high and repeated-use products like food packaging, baby products, medical devices, personal-care items, and products specifically sold to pregnant or breastfeeding women.
  2. Industry, especially health care, should use phthalate-free or lower-toxicity alternatives. Alternatives with less leakage should also be considered.
  3. Parents should be advised not to give their children toys with toxic plasticizers; Children should not use older plastic toys, soft vinyl toys, or teething rings

Recent studies on Phthalates

Phthalates are a series of widely used chemicals that demonstrate to be endocrine disruptors and are detrimental to human health. Phthalates can be found in most products that have contact with plastics during producing, packaging, or delivering. Despite the short half-lives in tissues, chronic exposure to phthalates will adversely influence the endocrine system and functioning of multiple organs, which has negative long-term impacts on the success of pregnancy, child growth and development, and reproductive systems in both young children and adolescents.
Wang, Y., & Qian, H. (2021)

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In this pooled analysis of 16 studies in the US including 6045 pregnant individuals, phthalate metabolites were quantified in urine samples collected during pregnancy. Higher urinary metabolite concentrations for several prevalent phthalates were associated with greater odds of delivering preterm, and hypothetical interventions to reduce phthalate exposure levels were associated with fewer preterm births.

Author: B.M. Welch, et al, 2022

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We investigated whether mixtures of paternal urinary bisphenol A (BPA), paraben, and phthalates were associated with pregnancy outcomes among couples attending a fertility center.

We included 210 couples undergoing 300 in vitro fertilization (IVF) between 2004 and 2017 in this prospective analysis. 

Conclusion: Paternal mixtures of urinary concentrations of DEHP metabolites were related to higher infertility treatment failure.

Author: Lidia Mínguez-Alarcón, et al, 2020

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Among food contact papers in this study, detection frequencies ranged from 38% for sandwich/burger wrappers to ~57% for Tex-Mex food packaging and dessert/bread wrappers. Overall, fluorine was more commonly detected in grease-proof products (e.g., food contact papers) than in products holding liquids or not intended to come into contact with food. These detection frequencies indicate the presence of fluorinated food packaging currently in use but are not necessarily representative of the marketplace.

Author: Laurel A. Shaider, et al, 2017

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Dust in homes can contain phthalates that may adversely affect child development, but whether residential interventions and dust removal can prevent children’s exposure to phthalates is unknown. We quantified the influence of a residential lead hazard intervention and dust control on children’s urinary phthalate metabolite concentrations.

Author: Sears, C. G, et al, 2020

Read the full article

Other facts You might Find Interesting...

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PBDEs  are toxic chemicals found in common household products and can have significant impact fetal brain development. 

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Microplastics  result from plastic breaking down into fine particles often containing hazardous toxins. They exist throughout the environment.

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Air pollution  is a major risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide. We can’t escape it, it’s all around us. 

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PFAS chemicals are known as “forever chemicals” because they never completely break down, leaving them in our soils, our water and our bodies.

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Pesticides can cause short-term adverse health effects as well as chronic adverse effects that can occur months or years after exposure.

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Allergic disorders have risen dramatically over the last 30-40 years as has our understanding of what causes them and the toxic chemicals that have the greatest impact.

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Endocrine disrupting chemicals are found in many common household products and can increase the risk of many diseases.

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Allergic disorders have risen dramatically over the last 30-40 years as has our understanding of what causes them and the toxic chemicals that have the greatest impact.

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Over a billion children live at extremely high risk for climate change events that can lead to disease and death.

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