Children and adults in the United States are regularly and unknowingly exposed to phthalates, which are used to make plastic more flexible and to bind fragrances and color to personal care products. Bisphenol-A, a hormone disruptor, is also used in dental sealants and in the resins that line food cans, in addition to hard, clear plastic products, such as baby bottles. Because of their body weight, children are far more susceptible to adverse affects from chemical exposures than adults, even at very low doses. Phthalates are also found in medical devices, such as IV bags and tubing that are made with PVC, automobile interiors and in our air, water, and soil due to industrial pollution and leaching from consumer products. Children are also highly vulnerable long before they are even born. In-utero exposures to phthalates can lead to birth defects and genital malformations, as numerous studies have shown in laboratory animals and, as suggested most recently, in a study of baby boys. See Environmental Levels of Phthalates Adversely Affect Male Reproductive Development in Humans, Study Finds.
Phthalates may also cause asthma as well as liver and kidney damage.
These chemicals are hardly essential – in most cases, safer alternatives do exist.
- PVC-free building products.
Steer clear of vinyl windows and doors and choose wood instead. For flooring, choose linoleum, cork, bamboo, or wood instead of vinyl. Adhesives, caulk, grout, and sealants may also contain phthalates. You can check for phthalate ingredients in these products using the National Institutes of Health’s Household Products Database (search for ‘phthalate’ as an ingredient).
- PVC-free shower curtains.
Avoid vinyl shower curtains in favor of natural fibers, polyester, or nylon.
- PVC-free packaging.
Look at the recycling symbol on products you purchase in plastic packaging. Plastics marked with the #3 symbol contain PVC. Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Victoria’s Secret, and Bath and Body Works have agreed to phase out the use of PVC in their packaging. Ask the companies you buy products from to do the same. See Center for Health, Environment and Justice.
- PVC-free toys.
Toymakers Brio, Chicco, Early Start, Evenflo, Gerber, Lego, Prime Time, Sassy, and Tiny Love have pledged to stop using PVC. Look for products labeled as PVC-free.
- PVC-free food storage.
Buy plastic wrap and bags made from polyethylene, such as GLAD. For food storage, use glass containers or plastic containers marked with recycling symbols other than the #3. For heating food, microwave food in glass containers, not plastic. Dispose of all clear, shiny plastic baby bottles, unless the manufacturer states they are not made of polycarbonate. Use filtered drinking water (even bottled water may contain phthalates).
- Phthalate-free cosmetics.
Check ingredient lists and avoid products listing ‘fragrance’ or phthalates. A wide variety of personal-care products may contain phthalates, including perfume, cologne, after-shave, deodorant, soap, hair and skin-care products, and makeup. Choose products from companies that have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics: a list is available at The Campaign for Safer Cosmetics. Limit your use of phthalate-containing personal care products if you are pregnant.