Phthalates are high-production volume chemicals used frequently as plasticizers in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and other plastics.
Exposure to phthalates can impair brain development, increasing children’s risk of learning, attention and behavioural disorders. The mechanisms behind phthalates’ harms are varied, but the chemicals are known to disrupt organization and function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, the system responsible for the management of stress and involved in the regulation of immune function and metabolic homeostasis.
Diet continues to be a significant route of exposure to phthalates, since the chemicals can leach into food not only from food packaging commonly used by fast food and take-out restaurants but also from plastic equipment used in food production. Another common route of exposure is from building supplies, including vinyl flooring and wall coverings, which allow phthalates to migrate into household dust and indoor air. They are also widely used in personal care products and cosmetics, including nail polish, fragrance, lotion and hair products.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health found that 90% of those tested from 2016 to 2017 had eight different plasticizers in their urine.
In the U.S., regulation of the chemicals remains lax and the FDA approves the use of 28 phthalates for use as additive in food contact products, such as cellophane, paper and paperboard, coating agents and binders