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Prenatal Origins of Endocrine Disruption

Critical Windows of Development


What are phthalates?

Phthalates are a group of industrial chemicals commonly found in consumer products. They are typically used to make products softer and more flexible. The most common phthalates are benzylbutyl phthalate (BBP), dibutyl phthalate, (DBP)di-2-ethly hexyl phthalate (DEHP), and di-isononyl phthalate (DINP). Products that contain phthalates include food packaging, cosmetics, soaps, fragrances, shampoos, hairspray, nail polish, pharmaceuticals, nutritional supplements, herbal remedies, building materials, vinyl flooring, paints, adhesives, detergents, solvents, lubricating oils, plastic bags, garden hoses, automobiles, children’s toys, modeling clay, glow sticks, cleaning products, and as inert ingredients in insecticides. In many instances phthalates are not identified on product labels. More than three million metric tonnes are produced annually around the world.

How do phthalates get into our bodies?

Human exposure to phthalates can occur through direct contact and use of products containing phthalates, through leaching of phthalates into other products, or through general environmental contamination.

Ingestion of phthalates occurs mainly from food products but also through mouthing of children’s toys, and as taken directly in nutritional supplements and pharmaceuticals. Phthalates leach out of food packaging, medical devices and other materials, particularly when in contact with fatty foods and oily substances. Skin absorption is also an important route of exposure through the use of cosmetics, sunscreens, insecticides, modeling clay, toys, waxes, cleaning products, and denture material. Potential sources of inhalation include baking of modeling clay and breathing of fragrances and hair sprays.

Generally, phthalates are metabolized and excreted quickly. They do not tend to accumulate in the body or the environment. However, biomonitoring studies that measure urine metabolites in humans show widespread exposure to phthalates. Women tend to have higher levels of phthalate metabolites in their bodies than men.

Where can I find more information on phthalates?

Read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals.