In news articles, you may have come across headlines that report on a certain brand or a product containing phthalates, or a brand working on eliminating phthalates from their products. From food packaging to children’s toys, phthalates can be found in many different items we use often. But what exactly are phthalates, and why are they bad?

What are phthalates? Why are they bad?

Phthalates (pronounced “THAL-ates”) are chemicals that make plastic flexible. Even though we cannot taste, see or smell phthalates, they are present in many objects around us, including food packaging.

We need to watch out for phthalates because they can be harmful to those who are pregnant, as well as their children. Studies suggest that children born to mothers who were exposed to high levels of phthalates can be delivered early and are more likely to develop attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other behavioral problems.

How can phthalates get into your body?

Because phthalates are in many items we use daily, it is good to note what kind of products are likely to contain phthalates.

Some ways that phthalates come into your body include:

  • Consumption of food and drinks that were packaged or served in plastic with phthalates.
  • Consumption of meat and dairy products from animals exposed to phthalates.
  • Using certain cosmetics with phthalates. For example, nail polish and hair sprays.
  • Production of food packaging using plastic tubing, plastic containers and food preparation gloves.

How can I protect myself and my kids from phthalates?

An important step is to understand what phthalates are and where they come from and try to avoid them. Some basic ways to avoid phthalates are:

  • Check the labels on your products. Phthalates MAY (though not always) be found in PVC plastics, which are designated with a “3” in the recycling symbol.
  • Watch your diet and avoid too many processed foods.
  • Use glass or porcelain containers for microwave rather than plastic containers.

Other resources

If you want to read more about phthalates, you can click on the following links:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nikki Gillum PosnackNikki Gillum Posnack, PhD, is a principal investigator at Children’s National Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation where she investigates the impact of environmental influences on cardiovascular function.

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