Monday, April 26, 2010

What’s the Big Deal about Phthalates?

Phthalates (pronounced ˈtha-ˌlāt) is a term that refers to more than a dozen common chemicals, mainly used in plastics to keep them soft and pliable. Worldwide, we produce more than 8.1 billion kilograms of these chemicals every year. DEP (diethylhexyl phthalate) is most commonly found in personal care products. DEP is found in air fresheners, toilet bowl cleaners, shampoos, cosmetics, etc.

These substances break down quickly in the environment and in the body, so our risk really depends on the amount we come into contact with on a daily basis. Their use is linked to sexual organ malformations in males and increased risk or testicular cancer. (The higher the levels of phthalates in the mother, the higher the incidence of problems with the baby.) In women, studies link phthalates to early menstruation, premature breast development, and ultimately, breast cancer.

We get exposed to phthalates in food, vinyl and plastic products, personal care products, household dust, etc. These chemicals leach out of products and into our bodies and into our environment. Levels can be higher in children due to the fact that they are in closer contact with their environment than adults are, mouthing objects and also putting their fingers in their mouths. Their immature bodies lack adequate detoxification methods, and make them more prone to these chemicals damaging effects.

Food is likely a major source of this contaminant. It comes from the soil, sediments, and sludge sprayed on crops. Phthalates are fat soluble, meaning they get into meat, dairy products and fatty processed foods.

What can we do to avoid phthalates in food? Buy lower on the food chain, eat fewer packaged foods, but organic when you can afford to, and avoid microwaving foods in plastic containers.

Unfortunately, when it comes to personal care products, phthalates are almost never listed as ingredient on the products that contain them. "Fragrance" or "Parfum" are often the words you need to look for that indicate that an item contains phthalates. Studies have shown that the higher the level of personal care products a person uses, the higher their urinary level of these chemicals.

A good website to visit is This site can tell you about the chemical makeup of your personal care products and help steer you towards healthier and more environmentally aware choices.

From the Book "Slow Death by Rubber Duck", by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie

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