I recently got together with a couple of friends and we had all five of our daughters (between 6 and 12) tested for phthalates in their bodies with a simple urine test.
What Are Phthalates?
Phthalates are a group of chemicals used in plastics and in personal care products. They have been proven to affect the reproductive systems in lab animals. These effects have been seen even in very small doses. There is strong evidence that these chemicals can also affect the development of our children, leading to reproductive issues and diseases down the road.
The DEHP Phthalate
Each of the compounds detected (on the horizontal X axis above) represents a metabolite in the urine of the phthalate DEHP. DEHP is used in PVC applications, toys, cosmetics, food, and food packaging. Some examples of uses are dolls, shoes, raincoats, clothing, medical devices (plastic tubing and intravenous storage bags), furniture, automobile upholstery, and floor tiles. It is the most widely-added phthalate to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to make products flexible.
One surprise from the testing came in the high levels of DEHP found in a couple of the kids. It is the most widely used phthalate in toys, and so (sadly) it might make sense to find it in young children (who may still be putting things in their mouths sometimes). However, phthalate exposures are thought to be mostly short-term. This means that it is likely that the DEHP found in these children came from something they were exposed to in the few days leading up to the test. (It also means these levels are just a snapshot of one moment in time and some high exposure just the day before could have spiked the results.)
What is shocking to me is that DEHP was federally banned for use in children’s toys in 2009! These results show how prevalent it must still be in our environment. This baffles me. I wonder if there are still DEHP phthalates lurking in plastic toys that these children are exposed to today, even though there shouldn’t be. If the DEHP is coming from toys, then where is it coming from? And if the federal government recognized the danger of DEHP enough to ban it years ago, then why is it still allowed to be included in so many products surrounding my children? Why can it still be in their clothing and backpacks and products that hold the food they’re eating?
What Can We Do?
As our children are school age, there is only so much we can do to control their environments. However, doses matter. These results motivate me to control my home environment to the best of my ability and to buy the safest products for my children. This way, I can help reduce their exposures.