What Are Phthalates?
(pronounced THAL-eights) are a group of chemicals linked to a variety of health concerns. They are used to make plastics more flexible, particularly polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics, as well as a dissolving agent for other materials – often to help retain color and fragrance. As a result, they are found in a wide range of products, including adhesives, air fresheners, automotive plastics, body washes, carpeting, cosmetics, detergents, food-handling gloves, garden hoses, hair sprays, inflatable toys, lubricating oils, medical-grade and food-grade tubing, nail polishes, plastic films used in packaging and other applications, plastic garments such as raincoats, shampoos, shower curtains, skin lotions, soaps, toys, and vinyl flooring, for example.
How Are We Exposed?
People are exposed to phthalates primarily through consuming foods and beverages that have come into contact with the chemicals, whether during the manufacture, processing, packaging, storage, distribution, and dispensing of those foods and beverages. There is also risk of exposure through inhaling vapor or dust that contains these chemicals, particularly among children, though ingestion remains the primary pathway for exposure.
In our communities, where much of the food that is available is either heavily processed or comes from fast food restaurants, the risk is even greater. For example, through the processing and exposure of the cheese used in Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, that product is a known source of phthalates. And many fast food restaurants in our communities use PVC gloves to handle the food, which is another source of phthalate exposure.
What Are the Health Impacts of Exposure?
Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, interfering with our hormones, which makes exposure particularly dangerous for children whose bodies are still developing. This can lead to an increased risk of asthma, autism, and hyperactivity as well as impaired reproductive development. Further studies are needed as we are just starting to understand the scope and potential dangers of cumulative exposure to phthalates.
What Can We Do to Limit Our Exposure?
Given the widespread use of phthalates, it’s difficult to reduce your potential exposure. However, there are some steps you can take. For example, avoid products made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics. You can also avoid plastic bottles and other food and beverage containers, and never microwave foods in a plastic container. To avoid exposure from food processing, packaging, and handling, you can opt for fresh foods sourced locally. And go fragrance-free, avoiding personal care products, cleaning supplies, and other products that contain added fragrances. See our Phthalates Fact Sheet for more tips.
You can also support the work WE ACT is doing. In partnership with the Environmental Health Strategy Center, we have been collecting food service gloves from fast food restaurants throughout Northern Manhattan. These gloves were tested as part of a 2019 study on phthalates exposure through PVC gloves. We have also been educating our members about the dangers of phthalates and how to minimize exposure. And together with the Environmental Health Strategy Center and other partners, we delivered a petition to KraftHeinz at the company’s annual shareholders meeting in 2019, with more than 100,000 signatures from consumers demanding that the company remove phthalates from its Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. The petition also urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to update its guidelines on phthalates.
Learn More: Read the 2019 report about phthalates in food-handling gloves, published by the Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging – which WE ACT is a part of. Read the Report
Learn More: Watch this video of the community briefing given by WE ACT’s Deputy Director & Director of Policy Initiatives Cecil Corbin-Mark on Phthalates and PFAS at our June 2019 Membership Meeting, which focused on Food Justice. Watch the Video