Phthalates are plasticizers and fragrance carriers used in a wide variety of consumer products, especially those containing PVC (polyvinyl chloride).

How am I exposed?

People can be exposed to phthalates through air, dust, food, or direct exposure from medical devices. Phthalates are found in vinyl flooring, vinyl shower curtains, and children’s toys, fragrance products, nail polish, lotions, medical devices and automobile interiors. Because it is not chemically bound to the plastic, phthalates leach out during use, exposing consumers and causing emissions to the air and waterways.

Why should I be concerned?

Di-2-Ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) exposure is of greatest concern for the fetus, infant, and women of reproductive age and those with regular exposure to medical devices, such as dialysis patients and hemophiliacs. At higher levels of exposure, DEHP also can cause damage to the liver, kidney, ovaries, fetus, including causing spontaneous abortion, and can be toxic to the heart. DEHP causes tumors and cancer in laboratory animals though its cancer potential in humans is still debated. DEHP also can be toxic to the lungs in laboratory experiments at high doses, and limited human evidence suggests links between DEHP exposure through inhalation and bronchial obstruction.

What can government and business do?

  • State and federal governments should phase out phthalates in products such as home furnishings, building materials, cosmetics and medical devices.
  • Businesses should phase out phthalates and other potentially harmful toxic chemicals out of their products and look toward safer alternative chemicals.
  • Hospitals should phase out PVC medical devices.

How can I reduce my exposure?

  • Avoid purchasing products marked with the #3 recycling symbol.
  • Buy plastic wrap made from polyethylene, and shower curtains made from cotton, polyester, or nylon.
  • Choose products without “fragrance” in their ingredient listing.
  • Click here for a list of companies who agreed to keep toxic chemicals out of people, products and the environment.
Additional Resources

Lowell Center for Sustainable Production Fact Sheet: DEHP
Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: Chemicals of Concern


Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow

c/o Clean Water Action/Clean Water Fund
P.O. Box 83 554 Washington Street
Dorchester, MA 02124

Join Us

Join us in fighting for a
healthier environment.